Seven Riddles to Nowhere wins another award!

In case you haven’t already heard, my middle grade mystery Seven Riddles to Nowhere won Honorable Mention for Catholic children’s books at the Catholic Press Awards last Friday!

Check out the award-winning middle grade mystery Seven Riddles to Nowhere by A.J. Cattapan

This is a very broad category that included both fiction and nonfiction, and everything from picture books and early chapter books to middle grade books. First place went to a book for children written by Pope Francis, so you can see how tough the competition was!

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That time I went to Lourdes and God whacked me upside the head

Everyone who goes to Lourdes and enters the healing water baths has a story. I guess it’s time I finally told mine.

In case you haven’t already heard, I had the opportunity to visit Lourdes on pilgrimage with some of my fellow members of the Order of Malta. Every spring, Knights and Dames of Malta from around the world take “malades” (the French term for sick people) to Lourdes for spiritual and physical healing.

When I became a Dame of Malta in November of 2015, many people at the Investiture ceremony asked if I’d done the Lourdes pilgrimage yet.

“Um, no.”

“Oh, you must go,” they all said. “It’s an experience you won’t forget, and the candlelit rosary procession is so beautiful!”

I’d heard stories from people who’d been to Lourdes. My own sister-in-law had told me how she had visited Lourdes when she’d had a skin rash. The water was ice cold, she said, but when she came out her skin felt like it was on fire and she dried instantly. In fact, everyone I talked to who had been in the baths said they dried off right away.

Hmm, it sounded like a cool pilgrimage. Still, it would be expensive, and I’d have to save up personal days to get enough time off of work.

Less than a week after my investiture into the Order of Malta, my fellow YA author friend Stephanie Engelman posted shocking news. She had woken in the middle of the night to nurse the youngest of her five children and ended up finding her husband on the floor. He’d had a massive heart attack.

As news unfolded over the course of the next few days, details surfaced that felt like God was whacking me upside the head and saying, “Invite them to Lourdes! Sponsor her husband Ray as a malade.” You see, Stephanie’s first book was less than two months away from releasing. The book’s about the power of the rosary. Ray had gone into a coma, and it was while his parish community was holding a special rosary prayer session for him that Ray’s condition began to improve. As I heard details of all this, I kept thinking about the candlelit rosary procession at Lourdes.

Long story short, I eventually asked Stephanie if she and Ray would be interested. Due to timing, we couldn’t get into the 2016 pilgrimage. We had to wait to file for the 2017 pilgrimage, which was probably for the best because I needed time to save up some personal days at work.

Luckily, Ray was accepted as a malade, and so off we went.

Each malade at Lourdes gets his or her own “pod.” This is a group of people who helps care for the malade during the trip. That pod consists of a caregiver (usually a family member), a host (who keeps us all in line), a charioteer (who pulls the voiture the malade sits in), and a few other Dames, Knights, or volunteers to help push the voiture (that was my job) and/or fetch whatever the malade needs (water, umbrella, etc.).

The malades and their caregivers visit the baths on the second day of our pilgrimage. Anyone else on the pilgrimage has to wait until the last day.

Since I had been on a pilgrimage to Rome three years earlier, I knew not to expect any major religious experiences. They just don’t seem to happen for me when I’m with a group. I think it’s due to the same reason I don’t get much out of group retreats anymore. I’m much more ready and open to listening to God when I travel alone or when I go on a silent retreat. Maybe it’s because I have such an Energizer Bunny sort of lifestyle. I go, go, go. And all that “going” means it’s hard to slow down and have profound moments.

In fact, as we processed from one event to the next in Lourdes, one of the thoughts that ran through my mind often was, “I am your worker bee, Lord. Just put me to work.”

And when it came time to pray, the only prayer I could think of went a little like this: “Listen, Jesus, you know I’m not good at this pilgrimage thing, so I don’t expect much for me during this time. Besides, there are a lot of really sick people with us on this trip, people who need a lot more healing than I do. So whatever graces you might have had planned for me on this pilgrimage, why don’t you just pass them along to someone else who needs them more?”

In a way, it took the pressure off of me. On my previous pilgrimage, I’d felt incredibly saddened when everyone else was having profound encounters with God, and I was not. That’s why I ended up returning to Rome three months later on a solo trip, so that I could sit in silence with God and feel His presence again.

This time around I didn’t want to feel bad if other people had profound experiences with God, and I didn’t. Let them have their healing. I’d find time later to sit in silence with God.

Despite all that, I still decided to try to get into the baths on the last day. I had been warned that you sit and wait outside the baths for hours. In fact, I’d witnessed that for our malades three days earlier. It took a great deal of time to get them through, and we’d even had a reserved time for them.

So on that last afternoon of our pilgrimage, I headed to the baths with some of my fellow Knights and Dames from the U.S. We lined up outside the baths and took our turn shuffling along the benches outside the baths while we listened to the rosary being recited over and over again. Usually, the rosary is recited in a variety of languages. However, the people volunteering to lead the rosary that day must’ve been Italian because Italian (and a little bit of Latin) was all we heard. For nearly three hours!

This is the entrance to the baths. Do you see that long line of people? Yep, that’s how long you wait!

On the bright side, I finally got the Hail Mary memorized in Italian. 🙂

While I prayed along as best I could, I settled myself in for the long wait. I’d been told this long waiting is “part of the process.” Honestly, from the tales I’d heard, it sounded like this “process” made people either so sleepy or so anxious that by the time they got into the baths, they were a bit disoriented. Everything inside the baths themselves happens very quickly, and I lot of people felt like their time in there was more of a blur than anything else.

I was determined to “rest up” during my prayer time so that my senses would be alert and ready to take it all in. I didn’t want my bath time to rush by so quickly that I felt I missed it.

After hours of praying the rosary in Italian, it was finally time to enter. First, just a couple of you at a time enter the building and sit on yet another bench. You are seated across from a number of booths that have closed curtains. When a curtain is opened and a guest leaves, another person from the bench is invited inside.

Once inside the curtained area, you notice that this is really just an antechamber to the bath itself. This is the “dressing area.” It’s maybe 8×8 feet. Along the walls to your right and left are rows of plastic white chairs. Above the chairs are hooks. Several volunteers in blue and white striped aprons stand around “shielding” women by holding up blue robes to cover the women as they undress.

I was instructed to hang all my clothes on one of the hooks and place my shoes under the chair while a volunteer held a blue robe behind me. When I was ready, she wrapped the robe around me, and I stood by the plastic chair for a moment until the curtain on the other side of the antechamber opened, and I was led into the bath itself.

The bath room is not much bigger than the antechamber. On the opposite wall was a square depiction of Mary. Between that wall and where I stood was a small, shallow pool. It was maybe three feet wide and five feet long, and only a couple of feet deep.

The blue robe was unwrapped and somehow the women volunteers simultaneously wrapped me in a white sheet that had been dipped in the bath water. Already I could feel how ice cold that water was going to be. In fact, I’d heard so many stories about how shockingly cold the water was that I think that had become one of my chief concerns. I had visions of shivering madly like when I took swim lessons in the summer when I was a kid and had to jump up and down in the pool to stay warm.

As the ice cold sheet was wrapped around me, I took in a deep breath. Everyone said my time in the bath would fly by, so I told myself I could handle the cold. It wouldn’t last long.

The lead volunteer instructed me to step onto the first step inside the bath, to make my prayer intentions quietly, and then to make the sign of the cross to indicate when I was finished.

I stepped down. The freezing water hit me, but I was intent on making my prayer intentions. I’d prepared for this for days, so I wasn’t going to let the moment slip by. When I was finished, I made the sign of the cross, and a volunteer on each side guided me down the remaining steps into the water.

I breathed deeply and slowly as I plunged further and further step by step into the ice cold water. Amazingly, I didn’t start to shiver. I simply breathed my way through the painfully cold water. “You can make it,” I told myself. “This won’t last long.”

After taking a few steps closer to the opposite wall, the volunteers told me to sit down in the water. I took another deep breath and exhaled as the icy water rose above my waist. Then the volunteers gently leaned me back into the water until it came up to my neck, being careful to keep my head above water.

Immediately, they brought me back up. The volunteer on the right lifted my hand onto a horizontal silver bar that was fastened to the wall below the square depiction of Mary. The volunteer on the left did the same with my left hand. Then the volunteer on the right grabbed my left hand and pulled it over the right.

What kind of a game was going on here? Then I realized she was getting me to turn around. My time in the bath was over. I simply had to walk back out of it.

When I got to the top of the steps, I thought, “Well, here it comes–the instantaneous drying.” I didn’t expect my skin to feel like it was on fire like my sister-in-law had. She was the only I’d heard that happening to, but everyone talked about drying off right away, so I stood there while they removed the white sheet and re-wrapped me in the blue robe.

Hmm. Something was wrong. I wasn’t dry immediately. “Oh well,” I thought, “maybe people didn’t actually mean immediately immediately. Maybe they meant back in the antechamber.”

The full Lourdes uniform for the Dames of Malta

So I let the volunteer guide me back into the antechamber, where another woman held my blue robe open to shield me while was instructed to put back on all of my clothes. This meant donning, once again, my entire uniform for the Order of Malta, which included a white skirt, a long sleeve white blouse, a red cardigan, the long black and red Order of Malta cape, my shoes, and the white veil for my head. (See photo to right. Is it just me or do we look like we should be Red Cross nurses during WWI?)

As I put my shirt back on, I thought, “Huh, that’s funny. I’m still not dry.”

I put on the skirt. Nope not dry yet.

I put on the red cardigan. Still dripping.

I put on the cape. Not dry yet.

I put on my veil. I’m still dripping. I can feel it running down my legs. For crying out loud, I’m going to have to put on my shoes now, and my feet are all wet. Why have I not dried off yet?

And that’s when I heard a voice say, “You told me I could pass it on.”

Heart stopped.

God had just figuratively whacked me upside the head again. Don’t tell me to pass it on and then be surprised when I do it.

You see, God let me stand there and drip as a sign that he had taken my prayer seriously. He had passed on whatever graces He had planned for me to someone else. I’d received a physical sign of the spiritual graces someone else would get. God just had to sort of “whack me upside the head” to get the point through my thick skull.

The grotto where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette

And so I put my shoes back on my wet feet. And I squished my way out of the baths. And I walked around the grotto where, in 1858, our Blessed Mother had appeared to Bernadette and told her to bring people to the spring she would find when she dug through the mud.

And my heart was full.


The title of this blog post is a bit of a tongue-in-check nod to the absolutely beautiful blog post “That Time I Went to Lourdes and My Son Got Healed,” written by the mother of the malade that I cared for while in Lourdes. Please visit her blog here. You will not regret taking the time to hear her Lourdes story!

Also, to learn more about my friend Stephanie, whose husband I sponsored, please visit her blog here.

 

 

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Monday Book Review: St. Magnus, the Last Viking by Susan Peek

Susan Peek is known for writing historical novels based on the lives of lesser-known saints–and boy, does she bring these characters to life! This is my first novel by Susan Peek, and I look forward to reading more.

Monday Book Review: St. Magnus, the Last Viking by Susan PeekTitle: St. Magnus, the Last Viking

Author: Susan Peek

Genre: historical fiction

Age group: young adult

Synopsis: In the eleventh century, Magnus Erlendson became the second son to one of the two ruling Jarls of the Orkney Islands (just north of mainland Scotland). Due to the strange change his grandfather made to his will on his death bed, Magnus’s father and uncle are co-rulers of the Orkney Islands, and when they die, Magnus’s older brother and cousin are set to be co-rulers. However, Magnus’s cousin Hakon has other plans for how he’d like to be Jarl, and they don’t include having Magnus’s brother ruling beside him. Magnus, himself, is a brave young man who is also very pious and wants all men to forgive each other their wrongdoings and turn their hearts to God. Can he bring peace to his homeland?

Susan Peek’s tale is a fast-paced thriller that moves from one battle scene to the next. We tend to connect what we read to background knowledge we already have, and since I know little of 11th and 12th century Scottish history, I kept thinking of the movie Braveheart will I read this! However, unlike the Mel Gibson movie, Susan’s main character is a young man who would rather spend his time in prayer than in battle. Nonetheless, Magnus is a brave young man who isn’t afraid to take up his sword when it’s time to defend his family and his homeland–even from attack by own of their own. This is not a “quiet” book of saintly virtues, but rather a deeply engrossing tale of how one might live a life of prayer and penance in the midst of heroic action!

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New Website Designed to Help Parents, Teachers Find Faith-Filled Books for Teens

If you’re a member of my Insiders Club, you’ve already seen the announcement that a new website has launched that helps parents, teachers, and youth ministers find quality books that are appropriate for Catholic teens. I’m honored that Angelhood and Seven Riddles to Nowhere are both included on the site.

Check it out here–and if you know any Catholic school teachers, parents, catechists, or youth ministers, pass the word along!

Your guide to finding engaging, high quality books with values you can trust!

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My latest giveaways!

I have several giveaways going on right now, and I wanted to make sure everyone knew about them.

First, I’m super excited to announce my very first Instafreebie giveaway. For the next few weeks, I’m giving away preview copies with the first five chapters of Angelhood for free. If you haven’t purchased a copy of Angelhood, but you’ve been wanting to check it out, now’s your chance! Click here to claim your copy today.

 

 

 On Instagram, I have two giveaways going on. The first ends this Friday. I’m giving away two copies of Matthew Kelly’s Resisting Happiness. Visit my Instagram account here.

For my other Instagram giveaway, I’ve joined with fellow YA author Leslea Wahl for a double book prize. We’re throwing in a claddagh bracelet just for a little St. Patrick’s Day fun. This giveaway is happening over here.

So be sure to check out the Instagram games, and don’t forget to claim your free preview of Angelhood right here!

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Monday Book Review: Winter by Marissa Meyer

I started this book during winter break and didn’t finish for nearly two months. To be fair, I’m working full-time and going to school, and the book is over 800 pages long!

Title: Winter

Author: Marissa Meyer

Genre: science-fiction

Age group: young adult

Synopsis: This is the final book in the Lunar Chronicles series, in which we finally get to see all our princesses (Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter) resolve their problems. The book takes place almost entirely on the moon (Lunar colony), and the “girls” and their “boys” work together to defeat the evil Queen Levana.

When I started this series, I thought it was absolutely fantastic. Ooh, if only I could come up with a series idea as great as this! And Marissa Meyer did a great job with the first three books of this series, but something seemed to go wrong with this last one. I know part of the reason it took me so long to finish was that I have very little time for reading these days. Still, the plot seemed to move along at an achingly slow pace. I fear this may be a case where the author’s books were selling so well that the publisher just let her write and write and write. However, that meant what should have been an epic ending became a story that just. wouldn’t. end.

All due respect to Marissa Meyer (again, I should be so lucky to be as creative and gifted a writer as she is), but I think her editors failed her here. Somebody should have said, “This is great, but let’s cut this story in half. Four hundred pages should do just fine.”Save

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Monday Book Review: Erin’s Ring by Laura H. Pearl

Another YA book I was able to read over winter break (and have finally gotten around to writing the review!)

Book review for Erin's Ring by Laura H. PearlTitle: Erin’s Ring

Author: Laura H. Pearl

Genre: Historical fiction

Age group: YA

Summary (from back cover):
When thirteen-year-old Molly McCormick, who has recently moved from the Midwest to Dover, New Hampshire, finds an old Irish Claddagh ring poking up out of the dirt in a garden outside her local parish church, she is immediately intrigued. The ring’s inscription, “To Erin–Love, Michael”, fills her head with romantic possibilities. She teams up with her new friend, Theresa Grant, to uncover the story behind the lost ring. With the help of the head librarian at the public library, the two girls become immersed in the rich history of the Irish immigrants who came to Dover in droves during the 19th century, to escape famine and poverty in their homeland and make better lives for their children and grandchildren.”

This novel would be considered a “time split” story. In other words, the story jumps back and forth between Molly’s time period (late 1990s) and the 19th century when Irish Catholic immigrants were moving into the New England area. If you are interested in Irish Catholic history in America, you would enjoy learning about the struggles of these immigrants. I don’t consider myself much of a history buff, but the author Laura Pearl has a writing voice that fits well for that time period. In fact, I much preferred the 19th century scenes as the voice rang truer in those scenes than they did for the the “modern” girls (Molly and her friend Theresa). The story is a sweet one that I’m sure history lovers (especially those who love Irish-American Catholic history) will enjoy.

 

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Books That Feature Catholic Schools

In honor of Catholic Schools Week, I thought I’d put together a list of novels that feature students in Catholic schools. Sadly, I was having trouble coming up with much of a list on my own, so I took to Facebook and Twitter to pick the brains of people smarter (and more well read?) than I am. Here’s what I found, broken down by the intended audience.

16 Books that feature Catholic schools

Ages 7-10

The Chime Travelers Series by Lisa M. Hendey

Books that feature Catholic schools!

I’ve had the pleasure of reading two books in this fun series. In these tales, Katie and Patrick (who attend a Catholic school) travel back in time when the church bell chimes. Each journey brings them to a place and time in history when they get to meet a saint or at least a saint-in-the-making! My review of The Sign of the Cross can be found here.

Ages 8-12

Rosa, Sola by Carmela Martino

Monday Book Review: Rosa, Sola by Carmela Martino

This is a beautiful tale about a girl who prays the rosary every night so that God will send her a little brother. Rosa attends a Catholic school in Chicago in the 1960s and is the daughter of Italian immigrants. If you missed it earlier this year, click here for my full review.

Pictures of Me by Marilee Haynes

pictures-of-me

Eleven-year-old Annie must complete a self-portrait and present it to the class at the end of the year. However, like my main character Kam (see Seven Riddles to Nowhere below), she has a little problem with public speaking. I haven’t read this one yet, but I hope to do so before the year ends!

A.K.A. Genius and Genius Under Construction by Marilee Haynes

Books that feature Catholic schools

I haven’t read these two books either, but they are definitely on my TBR list! Like the main character in my own book (see next book), the protagonist in this story attends a school named after St. Jude! I’m thinking Marilee Haynes and I must be kindred spirits since our books appear to have some similar ideas!

Ages 10-13

Seven Riddles to Nowhere by A.J. Cattapan (hey, that’s me!)

7 Riddles 3d

I spent ten years teaching in Catholic schools. Sadly, one of those schools closed after my fourth year there. Its closing haunted me for years until finally I had to do something about it–and all I could think of was to write a book about a boy trying to save his Catholic school from closing. The result was Seven Riddles to Nowhere. I couldn’t just make it about a boy trying to save his school, though. I had to make it a fun book–one with quirky characters and fun riddles to solve and a scavenger hunt through the city I call home–Chicago!

Ages 13 and up

John Paul II High School Series by Christian M. Frank

jp-ii-high-books

I’m going to have to admit I haven’t read any of these either (my TBR list is really long), but it’s clear they take place at a Catholic high school. If I understand correctly, Christian M. Frank is really just a pseudonym for a team of writers who work on this series.

Ages 16 and up

 Jennifer the Damned by Karen Ullo

jennifer-the-damned

This one I haven’t read either–and it’s definitely off the beaten path when you think of Catholic school books. However, the author assures me that it takes place in a Catholic school. If I understand correctly, this is the story of an orphan vampire who is raised by nuns who run a Catholic school. So have fun with that!

Coming soon . . .

Some of the authors in our Books for Catholic Teens Facebook group have books coming out this year that will include Catholic schools, so make sure you join our group here to learn more about them and other books for Catholic teens.

And don’t forget to sign up for my Insiders Club so you can get my once-a-month update on book reviews, book giveaways, and yummy recipes!

 

Sign up now so you don’t miss out!

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Monday Book Review: Rosa, Sola by Carmela Martino

Can I resist a middle grade book with an Italian-American main character and lots of Italian vocabulary words sprinkled throughout?

No. No, I cannot. 🙂

Monday Book Review: Rosa, Sola by Carmela MartinoTitle: Rosa, Sola

Author: Carmela Martino

Age group: middle grade (on the youngish side)

Genre: historical fiction? (I read somewhere that anything from the Vietnam War or earlier is now considered historical fiction. This story takes place in the 1960s.)

Summary: Rosa Bernardi, an only child living with her Italian immigrant parents in 1960s Chicago, often feels alone, or SOLA, as her parents would say. But after she holds her best friend AnnaMaria’s baby brother for the first time, Rosa is sure that if she prays hard enough, God will send her a brother of her own. When Rosa’s prayers for a sibling are answered, she is overjoyed—until tragedy strikes. Rosa is left feeling more SOLA than ever, and wondering if her broken family will ever be whole again. (taken from Amazon)

School Library Journal called this a “gentle and moving story,” and I have to agree. Rosa is a good Catholic girl who desperately prays the rosary every night for God to send her a little brother. I don’t want to give the story away, but as the Amazon summary states, tragedy strikes the family. You can’t help but feel for Rosa and her family. Carmela’s descriptions of love and loss are dead-on. Make sure you’ve got a hankie nearby when you reach the mid-point of this book. Still, the story is told with such compassion and care for the characters that you can’t help but love them. This would be a wonderful book to share with a child who might be coping with loss.

Brava to Carmela Martino on a beautiful tale.

(And for those of you wondering: yes, I understood all the Italian words in the story. I didn’t need to peek at the glossary in the back once. 🙂 )

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Monday Book Review: Six Dates to Disaster by Cynthia Toney

One of the best parts about winter break is having time to read something other than books for my doctorate program! I’m trying to get through several books this week, so hopefully, I’ll have several more Monday book reviews for you before the month is up!

Today, I’m covering the third book in Cynthia Toney’s Bird Face series.

Monday Book Review: Six Dates to DisasterTitle: Six Dates to Disaster

Author: Cynthia T. Toney

Genre: romance

Age group: YA

Summary: In this third book from the Bird Face series, high school freshman Wendy is finally dating David, and all seems to be going well so far. However, another area of Wendy’s life is falling apart. In the last Bird Face book, we learned that Wendy’s elderly neighbor, Mrs. V., was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Her son and grandson decided it would be best if she moved to Alaska near them. In this book, Wendy is desperate to get to Alaska to visit Mrs. V. one last time before she can no longer remember who Wendy is. The problem is that her parents have lost their jobs, and Wendy will have to earn the money on her own to get there. Wendy’s desperation leads her to some ethically questionable decisions. Can she find a way to earn the money for the trip to Alaska and still maintain her relationship with David?

If you’ve read the other two books in the Bird Face series, you’ll enjoy this one as well. Author Cynthia Toney keeps all the kissing scenes very PG, so parents can feel comfortable handing this book to their young teens. The story moves along swiftly, and I was able to finish in just a few nights.

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