Monday Book Review: The Phantom Bully by Jeffrey Brown

I picked up this book thinking it would be cute for my nephew for his birthday, and I ended up reading it myself. What can I say? I’m a Star Wars geek through and through.

Monday Book Review: Star Wars: Jedi Academy #3: The Phanton BullyTitle: The Phantom Bully (Star Wars: Jedi Academy #3)

Author: Jeffrey Brown

Genre: sci-fi graphic novel

Age group: middle grade

I had no idea this was the third book in the series when I first picked it up, but the book is written in such a way that it’s okay if you didn’t read the first two. This book has main character Roan in his third year of middle school. His middle school just happens to be a Jedi training academy. He’s had a history of getting into trouble (in an oops-did-I-do-that kind of way), and now someone seems intent on making middle school miserable for him.

As a middle school teacher, I enjoyed how Brown incorporated typical middle school issues into his story (first “loves,” teachers who seem difficult but really just want the best for their students, friendship issues, and bullying). As a Star Wars geek, I love how he stayed true to the Star Wars world and added in jokes that Star Wars fans will appreciate. The characters are original yet still familiar. There are droids like C-3PO and R2-D2 who acts as chaperones when Roan and his friends want to “double date.”

One happy surprise was discovering that Brown finds engaging ways to bring some positive moral messages into the story. Not only does he tackle how to handle bullies well, but he also brings up ethical issues like the “right” way to use the Jedi mind trick.

Monday Book Review: The Phantom Bully (Star Wars: Jedi Academy #3)

Here is what Roan has learned about the ethical ways to use the Jedi mind trick.

So if you have any Star Wars fans in your house, check out the Star Wars: Jedi Academy series. Very fun reading with some nice messages!


Posted in Book Reviews, Middle Grade, Reading | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

YA Books Galore Giveaway!

Who wants to win a whole stack of

YA books?

YABooksGalore horiz2

This contest is open to anyone with a U.S. mailing address. (Sorry, international YA fans, I found out the hard way that mailing a book is really expensive. Mailing a whole stack of books would be outrageous.)

Contest opens: June 14, 2016

Contest ends: June 27, 2016 (midnight, CDT)

To enter, you just need to do two things:

  1. Sign up for my Insiders Club (where you’ll get to learn about all sorts of giveaways).
  2. Comment below that you signed up!

That’s it!

Want an extra entry point? Share the news of this giveaway on Instagram. Tag me @a.j.cattapan and use the hashtag #YABooksGalore.

Want to see me look silly? Watch this video.


Click here to sign up for the Insiders Club. Then comment below to enter!


Posted in Giveaway, Reading, young adult | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Monday Book Review: Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy by Susan Vaught

Every year I try to read the Edgar Award nominees for juvenile and young adult fiction before the winners are announced. Due to time constraints with the doctorate program, I completely failed this year. However, I did manage to read the winner in the juvenile category recently, so here it is!

Footer DavisTitle: Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy

Author: Susan Vaught

Genre: mystery

Age group: middle grade

Synopsis: Footer Davis’s mother has bipolar disorder.  Sometimes she’s just fine–but not if she doesn’t take her pills. Prior to the opening of our story, there was a terrible fire on a neighbor’s farm. The two Abrams kids who live there haven’t been seen since. Were they so badly burned in the fire no one could find their remains? Or have they fled? Footer and her best friend Peavine decide to investigate, and what Footer finds scares her into thinking maybe she had something to do with the fire herself.

Author Susan Vaught works in the mental health field, so she’s definitely writing about something she has experience with here. The story is told in first-person from the perspective of young Footer Davis. Footer has a very unique voice. It’s one of the strengths of this story, but I’ll also admit it’s part of what made this story a little hard for me to get into at first. After all, Footer Davis “probably is crazy,” and her thoughts can be hard to follow. When are we being told the truth? When are we experiencing visions or a dream through Footer’s perspective? Or is she just remembering the past?

Thankfully, once you get used to Footer’s unique voice, the story moves along very rapidly. The author also does a great job with the ending. Often in middle grade mysteries, I can guess where the author is headed. It took almost until the surprising ending for me to figure out where this was all headed. And then once I figured it out, I wanted to shout at Footer, “Hey! Don’t you see what’s going on here?!?”

Some might wonder with all of this talk of mental illness if this is appropriate for middle grade readers. Yes, it’s definitely told with a middle grade voice, not a YA voice. I would put it a little akin to the great story So B. It by Sarah Weeks which deals with a character whose mother is mentally challenged.

So if you’re into middle grade mysteries with unique main characters, check out Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy.

Posted in Book Reviews, Middle Grade, Mysteries, Reading | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Visit me at the Printers Row Lit Fest!

Stop by the Mystery Writers of America booth (at Dearborn and Harrison) on Sunday, June 12!

Events planned:

1:15-1:45 p.m.  Panel Discussion on “The Path to Publication”

2:30-4:00 p.m. Book Signing

Printers Row Lit Fest

If you’d like to learn more about my suspenseful YA fantasy novel Angelhood, click here.

If you’d like to learn more about my upcoming middle grade mystery Seven Riddles to Nowhere, click here.

If you’d like to join my Insiders Club for free giveaways, click here.

If you’d like to book me for a speaking engagement, click here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Blessed Rosary and Book Giveaway!

I think you all know by now that I’m part of a bunch of writing groups. One of them is the Catholic Writers Guild, and I’ve teamed up with one of my fellow CWG young adult authors and the Books for Catholic Teens Instagram account for a super giveaway! They’re celebrating hitting 1,000 followers on their Instagram account.

Enter to win a rosary blessed by Pope Franics AND a free book about a girl who finds a rosary bead and soon discovers miracles!

One lucky winner is going to get one of my very last rosaries from the Canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII. It seemed like an appropriate gift to pair up with Stephanie Engelman’s book A Single Bead, which is about a girl who finds a bead to her grandma’s rosary in the field where her grandmother died in a plane crash a year earlier. This leads to finding more beads and learning about the miraculous things that have happened to people who have found them.

This giveaway is happening on Instagram on the Books for Catholic Teens account. So if you’re on Instagram and you love rosaries and stories about them, head on over there and enter:

If you want to learn more about books for Catholic Teens, but you’re not on Instagram, check out our group on Facebook.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

How I Plan to Spend My Longest/Shortest Summer Ever

I’m embarking on the longest summer I’ve ever known–and will probably ever know. Thanks to construction plans, we started school early this past year, which means we got out early. Furthermore, the construction will last long enough that we won’t be able to start school again until after Labor Day. I’ve never had a summer that has stretched from before Memorial Day to after Labor Day. Over 14 weeks of summer. I should be thrilled. I should be relieved. I should feel excited and exhilarated.

I’m terrified.

As the last few weeks of the school year were winding down, I found myself becoming increasingly anxious about the summer. When you find out you’re going to have a very extended time off of work, you start to think about all the things you can get done, and soon your to-do list is so long, you’re sure you’ll fail miserably. There’s no way you can possibly finish everything you plan to do.

So what does a teacher plan to do when she has “time off”?

What does a teacher do on her longest summer ever? Apparently, panic!

Apparently, a lot of work! That’s what I plan to do!

Here’s what’s on the agenda for this summer . . .

Doctorate classes

I’m taking two. The first one started this past Monday. It’s a six-week, online course on educational research. The good news is that I don’t have to drive anywhere. The bad news is that it’s a semester-long class jammed into six weeks. There’s an assignment due pretty much every day.

The second class will be a two-week course on educational leadership in multicultural schools. This course will be in Rome. Yay!

Italian classes

When in Rome, do as the Romans do! And that means taking a class where we speak only Italian!Those of you who have been around for a while know that I’ve spent at least two weeks during each of the last two summers studying Italian in Italy. This year I’ll have only one week of study tacked on to the end of the doctorate class in Rome. Since I have just one week to study Italian, I’m taking their “Super Inatensive” class, which means having lessons in the morning and afternoon.


Inspired by retiring coworkers who had to clean out their classrooms as well as friends who are following a particular purging program, I’ve decided to do some major cleaning this summer. I have a very small home, which is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because there isn’t a lot to clean. It’s bad because I have no room for all my stuff. Somehow I need to organize all my teaching stuff, my writing stuff, my church stuff, my doctorate program stuff, and just in general, clean house. My plan is to take one small section per day and really clean it out–just one drawer, or one shelf, or one cabinet. Hopefully, spending just a few minutes a day will keep me from burning out.

Writing a new novel

Obviously, this is a huge goal, and to make it worse, I haven’t decided yet what that novel is going to be. I have a couple vague ideas, so I’m going to spend time this week discerning between the two.

Writing a short story

I have a chance to enter a middle grade mystery story in an anthology that’s being edited by a big name in kids’ literature. There’s no guarantee my story will get picked, but if I don’t at least write one and try to get in, I’ll never know if I could have written something good enough!

Reading List: Doctorate Program

I need to read five books for my doctorate classes before July 1:

  1. Educational Research
  2. The Culturally Proficient School: An Implementation Guide for School Leaders
  3. Implementing RTI With English Language Learners
  4. English Language Learners and the New Standards: Developing Language, Content Knowledge, and Analytical Practices in the Classroom
  5. A Thousand Splendid Suns

Want to Read List:

  1. the rest of The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer
  2. Love’s Perfect Surrender by Chiara Talluto
  3. Rome’s Original Tituli: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Eternal City’s Ancient House Churches
  4. Stay with Me by Carolyn Astfalk
  5. Ten Commandments for Kissing Gloria Jean by Britt Leigh
  6. I Thirst by Gina Marinello-Sweeney

Promote Seven Riddles to Nowhere

7 Riddles 3dOh goodness gracious! I have a new book coming out at the end of the summer!

That means I’ve got to get on promotion. Things to do include the following:

  • make a book trailer
  • write guest blog posts
  • put together a whole blog tour schedule
  • assemble a launch team
  • throw a Facebook party
  • arrange book signings at various locations

Speaking Engagements

At this moment, I appear to have five for the summer: three are author visits at area schools, one is for the Catholic Writers’ Conference, and one is for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’s annual tech conference. (Did I mention I’m going to California this summer?


As you can see, that’s a daunting list. My biggest fear is that I’ll succumb to the sin of sloth! You see, I love to sleep! There’s nothing better on a day off of work than getting to sleep in. The problem is that the more I sleep in, the later I stay up the next night. The later I stay up, the more I sleep in the next morning. The cycle repeats until suddenly I find myself wide awake at 2:00 A.M., and the next day I feel so sluggish that nothing gets done.

Need help getting that writing project finished? Multi-published author Allie Pleiter takes you through the steps of breaking that huge project into manageable chunks!

I can’t let that happen this summer. In order to tackle my to do list, I’m going to need to muster all the self-discipline I can. That’s why last night, I attended a talk by my author-friend Allie Pleiter. She’s written a whole book on how to get your writing done in chunks. (You can check out Allie’s book The Chunky Method on Amazon here.)

Her talk last night was very helpful. I’m feeling a little less panicked because I have some tools for facing my daunting to do list.

Now if I can just keep myself from hitting the snooze button in the morning, I’ll have a fantastic summer!

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Monday Book Review: Life-Changing Love by Theresa Linden

I had a chance to read an advanced copy of Theresa Linden’s new release (officially, it comes out on May 26), and I’m happy to share a bit about it now!

Life Changing Love by Theresa LindenTitle: Life-Changing Love

Author: Theresa Linden

Genre: contemporary romance

Age group: YA

Synopsis: There are several “love stories” going on here, but the main character is Caitlyn, who is about to turn 15 and is being introduced to the idea of old-fashioned courtship. There’s no dating without parental involvement, and things must be taken slowly. Caitlyn would like to try out this way of getting to know someone with her crush, Roland West, but Caitlyn’s not the only girl with her eye on Roland. Another girl’s interested, too, and her parents aren’t holding her to any courtship rules. How can Caitlyn compete? To complicate matters, another girl she knows is pregnant, and the boyfriend’s pushing for an abortion. Then Caitlyn learns something about her own parents and their dating mistakes that makes her question everything she’s learned.

Theresa Linden is one of my fellow Catholic Writers Guild members, so she does a nice job of weaving Theology of the Body into her story. This book has a strong pro-life message and would be a great way to talk about difficult dating and sex topics with your teenager. Theresa keeps the story engaging and realistic (this is not a saccharine love story nor are the characters all goody-two shoes).

Plus, there are some scenes in Italy. Enough said. 😉

You can pre-order it on Amazon here.

Posted in Book Reviews, Reading, young adult | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monday Book Review: The Sign of The Carved Cross by Lisa Hendey

The Sign of the Carved Cross is the second book in the Chime Travelers series. I suppose I really should have read the first book in the series before diving into book 2, but luckily, Lisa Hendey fills in enough details that if you missed book 1, you can still read book 2!

The Chime Travelers series is about a brother and sister who travel back in time and visit with saints. Their time-travel journeys start with the chiming of church bells.

Monday Book Review: Sign of the Carved Cross--second book in the Chima Travelers series by Lisa HendeyTitle: The Sign of the Carved Cross

Author: Lisa Hendey

Genre: Mystery

Age group: chapter book (grades 2-4)

Synopsis: When a new girl starts at Katie’s school, Katie joins her friends in excluding her from all their fun. But when Katie and her family help clean the church and the bells begin to chime, Katie is suddenly transported back to 1675. Tossed into a Native American village, Katie gets a sense of what it’s like to be “the new girl.” Luckily, she finds a friend in Tekakwitha, a young woman who knows what it’s like to be an outsider. Tekakwitha has scars on her face from a terrible disease, and her uncle’s family looks down on her for being a Christian. While Tekakwitha and Katie bond, things become worse in the village for Tekakwitha, and soon the girls are forced to run away in the middle of the night.

You may have guessed that Tekakwitha turns out to be St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American woman to be canonized. While I remember hearing about St. Kateri in school and I remember her being canonized in 2012, I really didn’t know too much about her. This book is a delightful introduction to this beautiful saint. Not only is this a lovely, intimate way to learn about St. Kateri, but it’s a fun read as well. Hendey keeps the story  moving along quickly, and young people will enjoy getting to know Katie and her family through this series. I love that the very “real life” problems of bullying and exclusion are worked so nicely into this story and in ways that children can easily relate to.

The book also includes discussion questions, a prayer in honor of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, and a prayer before receiving Communion. There are at least four books in the series out now. You can check them out here.

For news on my upcoming middle grade mystery and a chance to win a free copy, be sure to join my Insiders Club here.

Posted in Book Reviews, Middle Grade, Mysteries, Reading | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Monday Book Review: The Fantastic Frame #1 (Danger! Tiger Crossing)

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Lin Oliver, the author of the Fantastic Frame series, at an SCBWI meeting. (SCBWI stands for Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.) In fact, Lin is one of the co-founders of SCBWI, so it was cool to hear how the group came to be and how Lin has worked in the television and film industry all the while hoping to become a children’s book author. If you recognize her name, it may be because she’s co-authored a ton of children’s books with Henry Winkler, a.k.a. the Fonz.

Fantastic FrameTitle: Danger! Tiger Crossing (The Fantastic Frame #1)

Author: Lin Oliver

Genre: fantasy

Age group: chapter book (grades 1-3)

Synopsis: Ten-year-old Tiger Brooks has just moved into a new neighborhood. He lives on the lower level of a duplex with a friendly girl named Luna Lopez living upstairs and a “crazy” old lady named Viola Dots living next door. When Tiger sees a talking, top-hat wearing Pig disappear into Viola’s house, he and Luna decide to investigate. Inside, they discover that many years ago Viola’s thirteen-year-old son disappeared inside a painting that had been hung in a fantastical frame. Tiger soon discovers that the frame has an “hour of power,” during which you can step inside whatever painting is inside that frame. Before long, he and Luna are sucked into the same painting that Viola’s son disappeared into. Now they need to find Viola’s son and bring him back home to his distraught mother.

Art lovers will probably really enjoy this series as Lin Oliver introduces a new famous painting into each book in the series. As you can imagine, Tiger and Luna head into each painting in order to find Viola’s son, but something always keeps them from bringing him back.

IMG_2633This story is cute and a very fast read. I think I read it in a half hour. As someone who reads and writes middle grade and young adult, I’m afraid I just don’t know enough about chapter books to do any kind of fair comparison for you, but the concept behind this series is a fantastic one, and art lovers will definitely enjoy it!

It was great fun meeting Lin, and I wish her the best of luck with this series!



Posted in Book Reviews, Fantasy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Monday Book Review: The Perfect Blindside by Leslea Wahl

Leslea Wahl is one of my fellow Catholic Writers Guild members, and I was thrilled when I won a copy of her award-winning YA novel The Perfect Blindside in a recent giveaway. Since the grad school spring semester has now winded down, I was able to delve into this book–and once I did, I was hooked. Leslea’s got a very engaging story here!

The Perfect BlindsideTitle: The Perfect Blindside

Author: Leslea Wahl

Genre: contemporary fiction

Age group: YA

Synopsis: Jake Taylor surprises everyone when he wins a silver medal in snowboarding at the Winter Olympics, but his parents aren’t thrilled at the sudden rush of attention their son is getting. Seeking a more normal high school experience for their son, Jake’s parents whisk him off to a small town in the mountains of Colorado–not too far from snowboarding training ground, but far enough away from the paparazzi.  Most of the people in town are thrilled to have an Olympic silver medalist move in, but not honors student Sophie Metcalf. She’s got a theory about cute guys like Jake: they can’t be trusted because their good looks make it too easy for them to get what they want. But when trouble starts brewing in their small town in the form of slashed tires, rumored ghosts in old coal mines, and false accusations, the egotistical snowboarder and the judgmental honors student may just need to team up to uncover what’s really going on in this not-so-sleepy little town.

Leslea Wahl does an amazing job of making her characters realistic while still infusing faith into her story. I love the way she has Sophie pray throughout the book. Her prayers aren’t overly pious long epistles; they are quick, in-the-moment, down-to-earth (“Seriously, Jesus, help me shut my trap”) kind of prayers. Basically, the way I pray! 🙂

The pitfall in a lot of Christian fiction is to make the characters either holier-than-thou saints or really, really terrible sinners who suddenly do a 180. I enjoyed how Leslea gives her characters realistic flaws (you’d expect a boy who’d just won an Olympic silver medal to be a bit egotistical) and then let’s them have some character development without swinging the pendulum between sinner and saint too far or too fast.

Not only are the characters enjoyable, but the story line is very engaging as well. I’ll admit I kind of guessed what was going on fairly early in the story, but I think teens and their parents will still find this story to be a fun, fast read.

You can find The Perfect Blindside for purchase here.

You can learn more about Leslea Wahl and her writing in the following places:



Facebook AuthorPage:



Instagram: Leslea_Wahl


I’m linking this post up with the Open Book linky hosted by author Carolyn Astfalk and Click on either link to see what others are reading this month!

Posted in Book Reviews, young adult | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment