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


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!

Seven Riddles to Nowhere has won a Catholic Press Association Book Award and the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval. You can learn more about it and download a free discussion guide here.

Ages 13 and up

John Paul II High School Series by Christian M. Frank


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


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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Christmas Shopping Time!

Still doing some Christmas shopping? Yeah, me too! In fact, I have lots left to do!

If you’re looking for a gift idea, why not give someone an autographed book?

If you live in the Chicago area, you can come see me and three of my author friends (Susan Miura, Randall Allen Dunn, and Pamela S. Meyers) at the Fremd High School Holiday Craft Fair this Saturday from 9 am – 4 pm. We’ll be on the second floor at Booth 1077. We have book ideas for just about everyone–from middle grade readers to adults and from mysteries and fantasies to romance and action-adventure!
This is a HUGE craft fair, so even if you’re found your fill of books, you can probably find lots of other goodies.


If you aren’t local but would still like to give someone an autographed copy of either of my books this Christmas, just drop me a line and I’ll mail you an autographed bookplate to insert into the book, plus a bookmark.

bookplatesHappy Christmas shopping!


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New Book Trailer to Mark Five-Year Anniversary!

Five years ago tonight, I finished the rough draft of Angelhood. I considered it a “practice novel,” something that would never be published (let alone win three awards). It was simply writing practice as a NaNo project for 2011.

To celebrate the “Book That Wasn’t Supposed to Happen,” I’m releasing a new book trailer. Who knows where the next five years will take my writing journey?


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