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!

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!


Posted in Angelhood, Fantasy, Middle Grade, Mysteries, Reading, Seven Riddles to Nowhere, young adult | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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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Come to our Christmas Book Party!

On Wednesday night, nine young adult authors from the Catholic Writers Guild will be teaming up to give one whopper of an early Christmas party on Facebook!

(We know, we know, it’s too early for Christmas, but we thought we’d do it now so that people who are already doing their Christmas shopping could check out these books for gift ideas and maybe even win some books to give as gifts!)


We’ll have more than just books to give away, too! Many unique, special prizes will be offered, so come check it out. Click here to join the Facebook group, and then find the party under the “Events” tab. Be sure to click that you are “going” so that you get all the updates!

Join 9 Catholic authors as they give away books and prizes in time for you to receive (or give a loved one!) for Christmas!

Click here to join the fun!


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Monday Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

In case you missed it, this summer a new Harry Potter book was released.

The first thing that needs to be said about the latest Harry Potter book is that it’s not really a book. It’s a play.

The second thing that needs to be said is that it’s not really written by J.K. Rowling. The play is written by Jack Thorne, and it’s based on a story idea by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne himself.

harry-potter-and-the-cursed-childTitle: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Author: Jack Thorne

Genre: fantasy

Synopsis: It’s nineteen years since Harry Potter and his friends defeated Lord Voldemort. (Uhh, should I have mentioned a spoiler alert? You did read the original seven stories, right?) Harry has married Ginny and had three children. It’s time for his second son, Albus, to head off to Hogwarts, but Albus isn’t thrilled about being the son of the famous Harry Potter. When an unexpected time turner is discovered, Albus and his new friend at Hogwarts decide to travel back in time to right some wrongs.

It’s hard to talk too much about the plot of this play without giving away too much. I’ll only warn you that the story skips forward in time pretty quickly in the beginning. Albus is just a first year at the beginning, and then suddenly he’s in his fourth year.

While it was a lot of fun to be back with the characters and settings of Harry Potter, I found a few things about the play to be distracting. First, because it’s written as a script, we didn’t get the descriptions of the characters we usually get. This might not have been a problem with characters we already knew from the first seven books, but when a new character (such as Delphi) is introduced, we get something very brief, such as “a twenty-something, determined-looking woman.” That doesn’t really tell us much, and at times, she came across as more of a kid than an adult.

Another thing that tripped me up was when characters would suddenly “appear” on the scene, but they would never actually enter the stage. At one point, a character begins speaking, and I thought, “When did he walk onto the stage? Where is he standing on the stage? Or are we just hearing his voice? Is this a voiceover?”

All that being said, the climactic scenes have some nice tension, and the characters remain true to how we’d expect them to act.

Final verdict? If you’re a fan of the Harry Potter series, you’ll probably want this just to add to your collection and to find out what might have happened to Potter and friends, but realize that it’s not going to read like the original series.


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Top 8 Tips for Writing for Teens & Tweens

Last Sunday, I had to pleasure of joining a panel of authors from the Mystery Writers of America in a free workshop on writing for young readers. For those of you who weren’t able to make it, I thought I’d share a bit about what I’ve learned over the years with regard for writing for young readers, particularly middle grade and young adult.

Learn these top 8 tips for writing for young readersTIP #1: Read many books for the age group you want to write for.

If you want to write for teens, read a lot of young adult books. If you want to write for tweens, read a lot of upper middle grade books. There’s definitely a difference between the two, and you won’t know it unless you read a lot of both. Young adult novels have a much more introspective tone and often deal with much more complex questions about life, family, and friends–and most importantly, one’s place in the world. Upper middle grade novels tend to be more about friendships and fitting it, but they can still touch on tough topics. However, if they deal with tougher topics, they tend to do so in more of an off-the-page, slightly removed way, whereas YA books aren’t afraid to bring the difficult issue to the forefront. A YA book can spend longer periods being reflective as the teen protagonist tries to sort out her beliefs. A middle grade book will spend less time being reflective and more time keeping the plot rolling.

Kid readers are smart readers.

Kid readers are smart readers.

TIP #2: Don’t dumb down your stories or characters.

Young readers still demand that their stories are full of realistic and likeable characters that are fully rounded. Flat, one-dimensional characters are dull. Young readers know when they are being talked down to or preached to. Even if you find your sentence structure and vocabulary slightly less robust in a middle grade novel, it doesn’t mean that your story should be simple or your vocabulary stale. There’s a difference between limiting challenging vocabulary (or complex sentence structure) and completely eliminating them.

Remember that your books will be competing with this.

Remember that your books will be competing with this.

TIP #3: Keep the action moving.

This is especially true for middle grade books, but it can hold true for young adult novels, especially ones aimed at younger teens. In this fast-paced, technology-driven world, your writing needs to compete with 60-second Instagram videos and 10-second Snapchat clips. Study the pacing of other popular YA novels and see if it matches yours. Popular movies can also give you a hint at what good plot pacing looks like. See Save the Cat by Blake Snyder for tips on plotting out your story arc so that the reader stays engaged.

You don't have to do this writing thing alone.

You don’t have to do this writing thing alone.

TIP #4: Join a professional writing organization.

There’s so much to learn about the craft of writing as well as the business of marketing books that you could spend years researching this all online. Save yourself some time and join a writing organization like the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators or the Mystery Writers of America so that you can learn from others’ experiences. Attend conferences and workshops. Not only are these informative and fun, but you’ll make great connections with other writers and you’ll find yourself recharged for writing again.

Everyone needs a good laugh now and then.

Everyone needs a good laugh now and then.

TIP #5: Add humor to your story.

Young readers love humor. Even if you’re writing a serious story, see if you can’t inject a little humor now and then (even if it’s sarcastic) in order to vary the tone and tempo of your story. Being in middle school and high school is no walk in the park. Teens and tweens enjoy the chance to laugh even in the midst of their struggles. Create a character that they can laugh with, and they’ll be eating out of your hands.

Keep your writing timeless, not uber trendy.

Keep your writing timeless, not uber trendy.

TIP #6: Don’t overdo the slang.

I’ve seen a couple unpublished authors do this. They think they have to use “teen speak” in their books in order for their characters to seem realistic. The problem is two-fold: first, unless you really know how teens speak, you’ll probably misuse any slang you think they use. Second, whatever terms are popular today are likely to be unpopular by the time your book is published. While you don’t want your teen characters to sound too adult, you also don’t want them so firmly rooted in a generations’s slang that the book quickly becomes dated.

Don't bore your reader until she's tempted to throw her books up into the air.

Don’t bore your reader until she’s tempted to throw her books up into the air.

TIP #7: Avoid overly lengthy descriptions.

This one is especially true for the middle graders. Older teens can better wade through description if it’s told in an interesting enough voice, but my middle schoolers often lament books where the narrator just “describes stuff too much.” They want the action to keep moving. Give them enough description that they can picture the character and the setting, but don’t create long paragraphs of description. Work the description into the action. Instead of telling them every single detail about your character’s appearance at once, sprinkle the description throughout the story. Have her catch her reflection in a shop window and remark how typically flat her blonde hair looks today. Or have her slip on her shoes as she laments the fact that her feet are so freakishly small she has to shop in the kids’ department.

Are you writing for a teen or a tween?

Are you writing for a teen or a tween?

TIP #8: Know your age group.

As stated before, some people really struggle with the difference between YA and middle grade. If you don’t have children in those age groups, read up on books written for them. Learn what word lengths are common for each age group and each genre. A YA romance will probably not be as long as a YA fantasy or a YA sci-fi. Middle grade humor books will be probably shorter then middle grade historicals. Again, the best way to learn all this is by reading widely in the age group and genre you want to write for.

Most of all, have fun! Teen and tween readers are the best fans! They are devoted to writers they like, and they eagerly anticipate the next book.

Got a tip I didn’t mention? Leave it in the comments below!

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Monday Book Review: An Unexpected Role by Leslea Wahl

Today I am so excited to talk with you about the next book from Leslea Wahl. Leslea and I met online through the Catholic Writers Guild, and then this past summer we got to meet in person when we met up in Rome for dinner!


I knew from reading Leslea’s first book The Perfect Blindside that we would be kindred spirits. Her main character in that book employs the same sort of “Jesus, please help me not to make a fool of myself today” kind of prayers that I’ve been wont to make. 🙂

Anyway, today I get to tell you about her next book, which releases tomorrow!

Monday Book Review: An Unexpected Role by Leslea Wahl. Check out this YA book with romance, mystery, and adventure!Title: An Unexpected Role

Author: Leslea Wahl

Genre: contemporary romance with a little mystery

Age group: young adult

Synopsis: High school student and theater geek Josie just wanted to enjoy the perfect summer before becoming an upperclassman. She dreamed of afternoons at the pool and weekends at the lake. But just as the school year is ending, her mother’s latest young adult novel releases, and everyone at school seems to have read it and believes that the terribly embarrassing moments that happen to the main character are based on things that actually happened to Josie. She becomes the target of ridicule at school and is teased mercilessly.

To get away from it all, Josie leaves her Minnesota hometown to spend the summer with her artsy Aunt Lily who lives in a small beach town in South Carolina. Unfortunately, one of the “tier one” baseball superstar athletes from Josie’s school is playing for a baseball team in South Carolina for the summer, and he’s staying in the same beach town. Josie knows he’ll remind her of all the ridicule back at home and make her summer miserable. Not to mention, she’s got her eye on a hot young Latino boy who’s working at the beach town so he can send money back home to his family in the Dominican Repulbic, and baseball star Ryan seems to keep getting in the way.

And if that weren’t enough, there’s been a string of robberies in the small town that no one is able to explain. Josie wants to stop the crime spree and have a little summer romance, but first she’ll have to discover who she really is.

How could I not enjoy this book with all its baseball and musical theater references? Anyone who’s read Angelhood would have no problem imagining Leslea’s main character Josie and my main character Nanette getting along really well!

What I really liked about this book was Leslea’s ability to bring up topics like caring for immigrants and refugees, respect for veterans, and a teen’s struggle to find herself amidst the bullying climate of high school–all without coming across as preachy or didactic. She easily weaves these topics into a tale that teens can enjoy from Josie’s attempts to find romance to her efforts to discover what’s really going on in this small island beach town.

Told with humor and heart, An Unexpected Role is a tale for any teen who enjoys a book with a little romance, mystery, and adventure!

Want a chance to win books for teens and tweens? Sign up for my Insiders Club by clicking here. Once a month, I’ll mail you updates on giveaways from me and my author friends as well as the inside scoop on my writing and some fun recipes I like to share!


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