Monday, December 30, 2002

My Name is Mary: The Story of the Mother of Jesus by Denise Sawyer

Still Waters Publishers, 097142764X, $12.95

As a writer, I personally would never presume to write a fictional account of biblical events in the first person narrative style. Who am I to attempt a recreation of the greatest and most important events in Christian history as seen perhaps through the eyes of an apostle, much less the Mother of God? Who am I to put words in such mouths, even from a fictional viewpoint? While it's not something I consider sacreligious, I feel that few, if any, could tell the story as well as the authors of the Gospels.

To read a book about Mary, as told by Mary, can either be an exercise in exasperation or enjoyment, depending on your beliefs. It was with some skepticism, I admit, that I picked up Denise Sawyer's My Name is Mary, a slim gift book-sized tale of the earthly life of Christ as seen through the eyes of His mother. Sawyer, a recent convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, acknowledges in her introduction that exposure to Mary was sparse while growing up in a mainline Protestant church. It was not until joining her current church that she became aware of the Orthodox (and Catholic) devotions to the Blessed Virgin, devotions often ignored and/or misunderstood by evangelicals. The idea for Mary, Sawyer writes, came during an Easter meditation as a question came to mind that many a Christian has no doubt asked at one time or another: what would it have been like to have seen the events in Christ's life.

Mary is an effective, dialogue-free retelling of the major events in the Gospels, inspirational in its simplicity and to the point. "My name is Mary," she says, as if addressing an audience. "In the years to come, I fear that I will become almost a myth to some or perhaps to others of little importance in these events." To Sawyer's credit, Mary is written as many would likely see her - a modest woman, aware of her role and always yielding to the accomplishments and words of her Son. Sawyer's style evokes a brief yet interesting view of these times.

The major events of Christ's life as depicted in the Gospels comprise the backbone of the story; through Mary's point of view the reader relives Christ's birth, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection with the added emotion only a mother could share. As Mary speaks of her Son growing up among friends and under the tutelage of Joseph it does satisfy a desire to know more of Jesus's life as a youth, as well as the daily life of the Holy Family. Points of debate (among them Mary's perpetual virginity and Christ's "brothers and sisters") are also touched upon here in a manner no Christian - Catholic, Orthodox, or otherwise - would find offensive.

Despite the titular credit, Mary insists Christ is the main character in the book and in our lives, as He was in hers. As a work of fiction based upon Truth, My Name is Mary is a touching tribute to a woman who definitely should never be forgotten.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Seed of the Dogwood Tree by Gregory Cicio

American Book Publishing, 1589820061, $22

Michael Sinclair and his best friend Bruce are archaeology students with one desire - to make that one historical discovery to propel them into a stratosphere of fame, riches, and beautiful women interested in archaeologists. As Seed of the Dogwood Tree opens, both young men are hoping the time is nigh as they happen upon some ancient letters during an excavation of the mines at Mendips in England. Convinced the author is Baldwin I, King of Jerusalem during the Crusades, Michael and Bruce enlist the help of Bruce's uncle for a second, secret excavation in hope of finding something else.

This second trip yields, Michael believes, an even greater treasure - the Cross of Calvary and a jar of what appears to be blood, perhaps a sampling of the very Blood Christ shed for mankind. While Bruce is ready to celebrate, Michael decides to confirm their findings with carbon dating tests at the laboratory where his sister Liz works. Though Liz and her colleagues are engrossed in genetic studies which may one day aid couples having difficulty conceiving children, they are only too happy to take on the side work.

Things, as the reader might expect, do not go as planned for the young discoverers. There are no parades or tours of the talk show circuit, but instead mysterious and dangerous circumstances that lead to several deaths. Michael is soon plunged in the middle of a millennia-old conspiracy involving various secretive orders (seems nearly everybody but the Girl Scouts are participants) who all have designs on the same thing: to control the sequence of events Michael set in motion with his discovery, namely the coming of the Antichrist. Though not of a strong faith, Michael soon comes to find solace in Christ at this time, mainly through the occasional pub wisdom of a man named Gabriel.

In the realm of 'end-times' novels, Seed of the Dogwood Tree works in that it offers a unique twist to the story - author Cicio offers a fascinating fictional account with the cloning and genetic angles. Oftentimes in stories such as these the Antichrist is simply born or appears as an adult from nowhere, whereas here the reader is given a beginning that harkens back somewhat to the works of Aldous Huxley.

That said, Seed of the Dogwood Tree is not without its flaws, albeit minor ones. A long time gap towards the end of the book may leave the reader wanting for more closure for some of the supporting players (Gabriel, in particular) as well as with a few plot questions. Despite this, Seed of the Dogwood Tree does make for a dramatic faith thriller.

Monday, December 2, 2002

Godcountry by Colleen Drippe

Novel Books, Inc., 1591050022, $5.50

Eduardo Sabat was once a slave. Because he does not know the codes which will remove it, he still wears the shackle-like bracelet that once bound him to servitude in a pagan land, and which continues to remind him of his past. Though first instinct for a freed man would be to distance himself as far as possible from the place of slavery, it is not Eduardo's instinct. Now a for-hire mercenary partnered with the hardy Otto Zeller, Eduardo willingly treks back into the desolate colony called Godcountry, motivated by the job but not entirely aware of the consequences.

While the risks involved in returning to Godcountry are given, Eduardo is surprised by the attempts to foil his mission of returning the captured Hermadon Pelanot - son of the colony of Hithia's leader - to the custody of his stern aunt. His estranged wife is mysteriously murdered, and soon attempts on his own life follow. Nevertheless, Eduardo presses onward with the help of a motley party which includes the devout Christian Wolfbane and a crew of interplanetary religious known as the Star Brothers, whose faith gives Eduardo something to ponder as he discovers the threat to his life is closer than he actually realizes.

Godcountry is hard science fiction blended nicely with elements of faith and humanity. This story of a bleak future plagued by religious persecution and interplanetary greed bolstered through human slavery doesn't offer an immediate resolution to any problems, but offers the reader an intense look at how faith can exist in a hostile society and therefore offer a future of hope.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

Saints of the Jubilee by Timothy Drake, ed.

1stBooks Library, 1403310092, $9.50

Technically, this review may be construed as a conflict of interest since I am a contributor to this work. I penned the chapters regarding the lives of Blessed Pedro Calungsod, the first Visayan martyr to be raised to the altars, and the eleven martyred nuns of Novogrodek, now Belarus. However, in the interest of bringing this fascinating book to the attention of readers, this review will focus upon the contributions of the book's editor and other contributors.

Pope John Paul II, having canonized thousands of people during his pontificate, has been referred to as a "saint-maker," meant by some to be a compliment, by others as a criticism. While some argue that the Holy Father risks trivializing sainthood with these numerous canonizations and beatifications, it cannot be ignored that the lives of these saints and blesseds should be remembered and be made known to future generations of the Church. In this day of scandal and lethargy, role models are needed to remind us of how Christ's glory inspired the faith of many - from the beginnings of Christ's ministry to the darkest days of World War II. It was the pontiff's such dedication during the Jubilee Year, coupled with the names on the roster, that inspired Timothy Drake to collect stories for Saints of the Jubilee.

Saints is a remarkably deceptive book; one look at the slim volume may imply that only a select few saints are featured. In actuality, this book reveals stories of 164 saints and blesseds recognized in the year 2000. Some are readily familiar to Catholics.

There is Saint Faustina, the polish nun whose writing spawned the Divine Mercy devotion; Blesseds Jacinta and Francisco Marto, who, along with still-living cousin Lucia, witnessed the Fatima apparitions; and St. Katharine Drexel, an American nun devoted to helping the poor and advancing the education of blacks and Native Americans.

Then there are the more obscure, known best by those who supported their respective causes. Saint Augustine Tchao and his companions were converts to the Faith who suffered imprisonment and death due to poor conditions; Saint Marie Josefa of the Heart of Jesus founded the order of the Servants of Jesus, dedicated to aiding the orphaned and the homebound; Blessed Andrew of Vietnam, condemned to death in 1644 for witnessing to Christ, was the first to be beatified in the Jubilee Year. Their stories, written by members of the Catholic Writers Association are relayed with an enthusiasm that will easily dissolve any stuffy textbook perceptions of this hagiography.

The only disappointment to Saints, as mentioned above, is its brevity. Given other saints and blesseds raised to the altars in this time (including two modern-day popes), there is an air of missed opportunity. However, such omissions should not deter readers from purchasing this title, particularly those who homeschool. Saints of the Jubilee is a wonderful reference to a most extraordinary year for sainthood.

Tuesday, October 8, 2002

The Passionate Steward: Recovering Christian Stewardship from Secular Fundraising by Michael O'Hurley-Pitts

St. Brigid Press, 0973137800, $19.99

Books have been published explaining why Catholics can't sing, why Catholics pray the Rosary, and why Catholics don't (and/or shouldn't) have women in the priesthood. From St. Brigid Press and author Michael O'Hurley-Pitts comes a book on why some Catholics (and, to be sure, Christians of other denominations) don't give. The Passionate Steward: Recovering Christian Stewardship from Secular Fundraising is a book targeted at Christian parishes, in particular clergy and laypersons responsible for parish stewardship, but is not necessarily a "how-to" on the fundamentals of fundraising. Rather, Steward reads more along the lines of a "why-not" or "how-about" book in that problems of parish stewardship are not addressed with definite solutions in mind, but are exposed to allow the reader to come to the proper conclusions about what is best for his/her church.

O'Hurley-Pitts defines the various kinds of stewardship, pointing out foremost that giving is "not transactional," but "vocational." The problem with implementing secular fundraising techniques to parishes, he argues, is that the act of giving is thus in danger of being cheapened. Giving to one's church, be it time or money, should not have to require tempting parishioners with gifts and incentives, the author argues. People should want to give without having to be bombarded by a "what's in it for me" mentality, particularly when the incentives are hardly spiritual.

O'Hurley-Pitts outlines in Steward a history and the basic fundamentals of stewardship from a Christian perspective and suggested methods for campaigns (direct mail, guest speakers), and weighs the pros and cons of each. For the struggling small-town parish or the established metropolis church, The Passionate Steward lays out the nuts and bolts of stewardship in a concise and timely manner.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Father's Touch by Donald D'Haene

American Book Publishing, 1589821122, $22.00

I finished this book weeks ago, and now I am finally sitting down to write the review. The delay in this turnover cannot be entirely attributed to my schedule, I must admit, for book reviews come easy to me. Reviewing Father's Touch, Donald D'Haene's memoir of growing up as a first generation Canadian to Belgian immigrants, has been one of the most difficult things I have had to do. It is not because I disliked the story; as you might suspect, my delay concerns mainly the actual subject matter of the story. This is no ordinary memoir.

True-life stories of sexual abuse at the hands of parents are not very populous in the published world, and there is a part of me that wishes books like Father's Touch and Sue William Silverman's Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You (reviewed elsewhere) did not have to be written, that the authors did not have to be subjected to the terror that inspired such work. On the flip side, one must commend D'Haene for his courage and his decision to share his story, if only to serve as a reminder that abuse does happen and that inaction among others does not erase the problem.

Donald D'Haene and his siblings were first generation Canadians, born to Belgian parents who crossed the Atlantic for the promise of a new life in a new world. Yet for the matron D'Haene there was little solace in a marriage where her husband had established control soon after exchanging vows. When Daniel D'Haene decided to join the Jehovah's Witnesses, the family came along with no questions asked. As the family grew, so expanded the senior D'Haene's tyrrany, which would eventually manifest itself in unsavory activities with his children, including one in particular Donald called "The Game."

Throughout much of his childhood, Donald and his siblings were unwilling participants in The Game. It was not until the refusal of the youngest child to be initiated into these secret rituals that Donald's mother learned of the abuse. Subsequent reports to Kingdom's Hall resulted in investigations, disfellowship for Daniel and much harrumphing, but little action beyond that. Never during the course of the abuse and the time thereafter (during which the D'Haenes divorced and Donald moved his mother and siblings elsewhere) was the family informed that legal action could be taken against Daniel D'Haene. When the elder D'Haene finally was accused, the end result for the adult Donald was a botched case and a sentence that hardly befitted the crime of many years of sexual and psychological abuse.

Father's Touch angered me, as well it should have. This is a story written in parts, beginning in the present where Donald and a companion travel back to the places of his childhood. Vivid memories of fellow parishoners - now strangers - and former homes segue vividly into D'Haene's flashback narration, which features somebody D'Haene refers to as "the Other Donald," the numbed self the real Donald left to the mercy of his father to withstand the abuse. Reading Father's Touch, I could not help but wonder how common this phenomenon is among sexually abused youth (Silverman, in her memoir, writes of "Dina," an identity associated with her own experiences).

D'Haene writes honestly, and shows great skill for detail and narrative. Father's Touch is a raw, emotional story of survival, coming to terms with a traumatic past and moving beyond for a better present.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

The Night the Penningtons Vanished by Marianna Heusler

Larcom Press, 0971437009, $13.00

Money is a difficult thing to come by in the tiny western Massachusetts town of Floral Manor. Young Isabella Ripa yearns to be able to buy sweets and other things her impossible older sister Anna won't take away, yet her job at Aunt Tallulah's antique gift shop yields an almost nonexistent salary. Tallulah, herself strapped for cash, hopes a few smart purchases from an upcoming estate sale will yield profitable sales, and in turn save the business.

Salvation, by Isabella's perception, seems to come in the form of a young woman looking to sell a birdcage and a pair of lovebirds named Mr. and Mrs. Pennington through the shop. A sale would bring in some money, Isabella concedes, but before she can tell her aunt the cage is stolen from the shop, Penningtons and all. What's more, the original owner of the birds is soon found murdered in her hotel.

Sparred on by friends, Isabella reluctantly launches her own investigation, leading her to collect clues through encounters with the homeless and a nightmarish retreat weekend in an allegedly haunted abbey. It isn't long, however, before Isabella's worries switch from building a bank account to preserving her life.

Reading The Night the Penningtons Vanished brought back memories for me, of how much I looked forward to getting my next Nancy Drew mystery and plowing through the pages. Heusler's debut mystery for young adults is a delight to read, a story that doesn't talk down to its intended audience. In teenager Isabella there is a real person with whom young girls can identify, she is a girl dealing with typical pressures - money woes, weight issues, sibling problems - on top of a mystery.

She is not the perfect titian-haired Nancy Drew and she does not have to be. We root for her when she counters sister Anna's abuse by charging her money to borrow things, and we applaud her reasoning when friend Vicki suggests a get rich quick scheme. More than that, we want to turn the pages of Heusler's novel to see what happens next. Heusler would be wise to continue this setting as a series.

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

The Mask of Ollock by Robert F. Kauffmann

Arx Publishing, 1889758337, $12.95

The one advantage to writing a story of good versus evil is that such a theme plays well regardless of setting and time. In the case of Robert F. Kauffmann's The Mask of Ollock, the theme is fitted into an epic poem, written in non-rhyming octets. Ollock presents a style reminiscent of high school required reading, though dramatic and vivid and able to capture the attention of young readers as well as adults.

As his reign over the kingdom of Umbria draws closer to the end, wizened sage King Olgo longs to impart an important gift upon his heir, Ollock. Severe pride and love for the boy leads Olgo to fashion a special golden mask which imparts supernatural powers and immortality on the one who wears it. It is Olgo's hope that Ollock will use the mask toward a long, peaceful reign. Ollock, as is expected, has other plans.

With the mask, the prince instantaneously transforms into a bloodthirsty tyrant, and soon other kingdoms are alerted to Umbria's aggression and the realization that the mask must be removed from Ollock and destroyed. The seductive power of the Mask, however, clouds this realization in the minds of those who desire Ollock's power...and possessions.

It is difficult to not think of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy while reading Mask. Both share a similar premise where an empowered object made of gold (a mask, a ring) is sought for destruction, yet those given the opportunity to do so pass up the chance for a taste of glory brought on by evil. Mask, like Rings, employs vivid detail in its narrative, and fans of the fantasy genre will find it a unique interpretation of a timeless theme.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

The View From the Grass Roots by Gregory J. Rummo

Millennial Mind Publishing, 1589821017, $22.00

Picture Erma Bombeck and George Will having a child who grew up, moved to New Jersey, and got a dog named Chewbacca. This is probably the best way one could describe Gregory J. Rummo.

Readers in the New Jersey area will know Rummo from his many years as a regular contributor to regional newspapers, where his work tackles a variety of topics, personal and political. The Amy Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting Christian-influenced journalism in secular newspapers and magazines, has seen fit to bestow a number of awards on Rummo's work. Some of these pieces are featured in The View From the Grass Roots, a collection of ten-plus years of opinions on the Clinton administration, profiles in courage, and timely observations of the country and government in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

The book's title, Rummo explains in the introduction, is meant to emphasize Rummo's position as a writer. He does not proclaim to be an expert on the topics about which he writes, but rather he calls shots as he sees them -- as an ordinary husband, father, Christian, and American citizen observing life. To call Rummo "ordinary" would be a misnomer, however. A perfunctory glance at the contents of View presents the reader with a look into a life both blessed and challenged, a life appreciative of God's creations - everything from the rough beauty of rural New Jersey to the child growing in a mother's womb. Rummo's style is common sense and easy on the eye; a column on the logistics of coaching his son's soccer team may illicit a few chuckles while at the same time warm a reader's heart as Rummo explains how his son refuses to let his deafness become an obstacle while playing. His thoughts on past and present Presidential administrations may, depending on one's political leanings, leave a reader nodding in agreement or shaking his head.

Whatever your view on religion, the government, and life in general, it is well worth the time to see these things from Rummo's point of View.

Wednesday, July 3, 2002

More Than a Garden by Dorothy Compton

Awe-Struck E-Books, 1587492814, price TBA

Love at first sight is possible even in one's golden years, as is the case with Oklahoma nursery owner Kevin Wilkerson. From the moment he sets eyes on willowy Lenora Deakins as she chases her granddaughter around his shop, he is smitten. Soon he is making up excuses to visit her newly acquired home, and delivering gardening supplies at no extra cost. Lenora is initially put off by Kevin's bravado, believing at first Kevin sees her as a poor, helpless widow who can't afford the labor and supplies he offers. Much to Kevin's delight, Lenora's suspicions eventually fade and a relationship blooms. Kevin's steadfast faith in God propels him to persue the lovely Lenora, whose ability to interpret Scripture into a spiritual dance ignites a longing in him more powerful than a Midwestern storm.

No garden is without its problems, however, and in More Than a Garden Lenora and Kevin find a pest that threatens not the tranquility of Lenora's backyard but the security of her family. Thinking the widow has come into money, a seedy day laborer executes a ransom scheme that tests the boundaries of Lenora's relationship with Kevin. Through his devotion to her and God does Lenora come to find the strength to resolve the crisis.

Garden is one in a line of romances published under Awe-Struck's "Silver Linings" imprint. At first I was under the impression that "Silver Linings" alluded to stories of over-50 protagonists; I have learned this imprint serves to promote the publisher's line of inspirational romances. Regardless of the connotation of the imprint's name, More Than a Garden is a fine addition. Author Compton crafts a sweet, playful courtship story fringed with an edgy, heart-rendering conflict. Kevin and Lenora come across as genuine people who prove that passion is not necessarily reserved for the younger set.

Tuesday, July 2, 2002

Listening With My Heart by Heather Whitestone

Doubleday, 0385488998, $10.00

Note: this is a reprint of an older review, written in 1998.

Having Heather Whitestone as our first hearing impaired Miss America, one would think, should have been true inspiration for this nation's legion of children with disabilities. Whitestone's memoir, Listening With My Heart, shares these triumphs, but reveals also the stark realities this tiara holds. Anyone who thinks this title nothing more than non-stop glamour and make-up will be pleasantly surprised to learn of the more intense layers underneath.

Despite the joys and benefits of being America's sweetheart, and despite the impact Whitestone left following her year-long reign, there was an equal amount of heartache and frustration, and while reading Listening I found that just because one cannot hear the activity around her, it doesn't make the pain less hurtful. In Listening, Whitestone details her duties and the ensuing exhaustion, all the while keeping a cheerful front so as not to disappoint anyone in her path.

Her positive disposition, as felt throughout Listening, is credited to Whitestone's solid faith in God. Whitestone's love of God carries her throughout her career and is strongly felt in this memoir; she peppers each chapter with encouraging quotes from many known people and from the Bible. For all the uphill struggles she tackled (including living her Christian beliefs in a society that does not necessarily embrace the same values), Whitestone's enthusiasm is contagious, and her life-in-progress an inspiration.

Monday, June 24, 2002

Exile by Kevin Paglia

America House, 1588518744, $19.95

Mathias Kabrea is on the lam, surviving in a universe governed by an all-knowing computer called Nezzar created generations ago to bring order. Instead it brings fear, and at times chaos.

The life of a fugitive is the only one Mathias has known, ever since his father was killed by Nezzar's minions for publicly espousing his Christian beliefs. In this universe of diverse alien races, imposed atheism is the norm and acceptance of Christianity is a crime punishable by imprisonment, torture and eventually death. Mathias's situation is unique in that although he is lumped into this category, he does not intially consider himself Christian.

Through this imposed exile Mathias comes to meet many members of the underground Christian movement and grows to admire their faith and dedication. Imprisoned by Nezzar as one of them, Mathias soon comes to have visions of a being more powerful than the computer, a being who calls Mathias not only to tend to His flocks, but to bring them out of exile and into freedom. It is a challenge Mathias accepts, though his methods of achieving these goals are unorthodox in the eyes of the Christians he encounters.

Christian science fiction, I have believed, is probably one of the more difficult genres to write; while the marriage of faith and science is not impossible, authors trying to reach hard-core science fiction fans may find obstacles in those who find the prose too preachy. With Paglia's Exile that does not appear to be the case. While Mathias eventually becomes one of those he seeks to protect, he does so on his own terms, and does it wholly while relishing the challenges embracing the faith brings. Paglia offers in Exile a story of what it means to be a Christian set in a hostile time and environment that, given recent the recent Pledge of Allegiance controversy, sounds more like a vision of the future than simple fiction. It is a timely story despite the presence of alien beings and space stations, one marred slightly by numerous typographical errors.

Sunday, April 14, 2002

Through the Storm by Sha' Givens

I Can Fly Publishing, 0970984111, $13.95

Mahogany Malone was named for her mother's favorite dancer, and one may argue that this teenage namesake is also a dancer. Mahogany dances through her youth with reckless abandon, easily rejecting her mother's rules and Christian beliefs in favor of an intimate pas de deux with handsome college student Steve Genere. A fight with her mother soon sends Mahogany tap-dancing into her forbidden boyfriend's arms, spiraling into the consequences of decisions that will shape her life for years to come.

Skip ahead a few years, and Mahogany's post-college life appears no different from the one she lived in high school. Though her relationship with her mother has somewhat healed, Mahogany's view of Mama Malone's unwavering faith in God is unchanged. Life as a Christian is hardly high on her list of priorities, as Mahogany is more concerned with finding the perfect job, man, and home - not necessarily in that order. Despite the prayers of her mother and best friend Jennifer, it does not occur to Mahogany that Jesus could be that man. Instead Mahogany's dance history repeats itself as an entanglement with her married boss puts her in an unenviable situation, one which leads to yet another bad decision.

Through the Storm is the story of Mahogany's journey to maturity, a process that comes not only from the mistakes made but what is learned from those mistakes. In her debut novel, Sha' Givens frames a traditional story of sin and redemption with strong female characters. Stubborn Mahogany's constant clashes with her tough-as-nails mother are the book's strength and provide a realistic slant to this story. Chance encounters with various "angels" experienced at points of great stress in Mahogany's life also lend an undercurrent of faith and offer bright spots to Mahogany's otherwise dim view of life.

Author Givens, according to one bio, is a sought-after motivational speaker and Christian evangelist, and Through the Storm is but one of the tools provided through her ministry to help others examine the benefits of spiritual treasures as opposed to the material ones Mahogany seeks. A powerful debut story, Givens does not sugercoat Mahogany's life. It is a struggle, as the reader will see, yet through Christ the end result is very satisfying.

Friday, April 12, 2002

On the Road to Happiness: Tales of the Traveler by Lauren C. Hudson

Pathway Publishing, 0971423008, $6.95

To look at Lauren Hudson, one would think of a woman who has it all: a successful job as a television news reporter, the recognition and admiration of her peers, and many opportunities to rub elbows with the rich and famous. For all the joy a major media award or a friendly smile from a handsome film star brings, however, such luxury is not enough to prevent a life-threatening situation, which is what happened to Lauren Hudson.

Having overcome a bout with cancer at the height of her career, Lauren's priorities shifted drastically, and thus she began a personal and spiritual journey in order to help herself move beyond illness and toward happiness. The success of this journey is shared through Hudson's small yet inspirational book, On the Road to Happiness: Tales of the Traveler.

On the Road to Happiness is a prose poem biography of the Traveler, represented as a wiry, curious being in the illustrations peppered throughout the book. Throughout the pages of multi-chaptered verse the Traveler ponders his station in life and sets out to find it, only to discover through those he meets along the way that the true path to happiness can only be found within oneself...and with trust in God.

Happiness is the first in a series of planned inspirational and motivational books for Hudson, and truly an inspiring gift to give to a friend in need of direction. Short on length yet long on wisdom, this title is a good remedy for a frustrated soul.

Thursday, April 11, 2002

A Season For Love by Lauralee Bliss

Awe-Struck E-Books, 1587490994, Download, $4.50; Disk, $7.95

Every school, every town probably has at least one girl like Elaine Reynolds: chubby, shy and cursed with glasses of the unflattering variety. Burdened with the frustration of near-poverty and athletic failure, Elaine is the girl everybody would look upon with pity if they were not already laughing at her. For this, Elaine blames David Edwards, the spoiled son of Charleton's most influential family, a boy who smugly breezes through life as if angels are guiding his path. David spends much of elementary and high school making Elaine's life a living hell, a hobby he maintains with aplomb until a tragic event brings Elaine to find her voice, and what she has to say to David is nothing like the praise to which he is accustomed.

Jump ahead several years, and Elaine is now committed to two things: improving the quality of her life and Jesus Christ (not in that order). What confidence she has managed to muster since high school, however, begins to fade upon learning her longtime harrasser has returned home. To make matters worse, David has been appointed by his father to run the family's latest business venture, the electronics outlet center where Elaine hopes to find work. Though she has opened her heart to God, it remains closed to David Edwards despite the radical change in his attitude towards her. David's reluctance to turn to God, compounded by Elaine's reluctance to forget the past, creates turbelence in their rocky courtship, and only when another tragedy strikes is it made clear to both that although flesh may fail, God does not.

Author Bliss gives us in A Season For Love a touching two-tiered story of forgiveness -- forgiveness of self and others. Bliss has created in Elaine Reynolds a likeable heroine who evokes our sympathy and respect. For all her piety, some may find it odd that Elaine does not always practice the faith she preaches to David, yet this kind of personality is what makes her three-dimensional. Elaine struggles with God's will as she does with her relationship with David (who, though seemingly mature as an adult, tends occasionally to allow the spoiled boy of the past to take over), and it is her determination to see life through with His love that is inspiring. Love is not always easy to experience, but as Elaine and David come to terms with their differences in social status and faith, A Season For Love shows that ultimately love can be attainable.

Bliss has authored various novellas available in print from Christian publisher Barbour and Company; she is certain to win new fans in the e-publishing realm with A Season For Love. Crisp narration and dialogue enhance the small-town feel of this story, where bitter feelings melt with the seasons.

Blessed Miguel Pro: 20th Century Mexican Martyr by Ann Ball

TAN Books, 0895555425, $6.00

Blessed Miguel Pro's life was, tragically, very short, yet very devout. He lived in a time when Catholic Mexico endured violent persecution under the regime of President Plutarco Elias Calles, a dangerous time to publically acknowledge one's Catholic faith, much less enter the priesthood. Miguel, often called "God's Jester" by those familiar with his sense of humor, risked life and limb to complete his Jesuit training and spread the Word to his people. In 1927, Miguel was accused of involvement in an attempted political assassination and was executed, his brief life thereby leaving a dearth of information for biographers and promoters of the cause for Miguel's canonization.

What information exists, however, is shaped by Ann Ball into a well-rounded portrait the Mexican priest who, though not all of his actions may be considered "saintly", is one of the best-known figures in the history of Church persecution in Mexico. I find it interesting to note that due to limited information on Blessed Miguel's life, Ball's book is quite an important reference, having been quoted in the chapter on Mexican persecution in Robert Royal's Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century: a Comprehensive World History.

At 119 pages, Ann Ball's book is short, yet very informative and entertaining -- it is difficult not to smile when reading the anecdotes of Blessed Miguel's deceptions of the police persuing him and other religious, yet a few pages later reading of his eventual martyrdom strikes a sad chord. This is recommended reading for anyone interested studying modern-day persecution of the Church and reading about one noble soul whose devotion to his Faith outweighed a country's fears.

Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion by Theresa Burke, Ph.D with David C. Reardon, Ph.D.

Acorn Books, 0964895757, $24.95

Grief after abortion is neither expected nor permitted in our society, so is the claim of Dr. Theresa Burke, founder of Rachel's Vineyard, a program designed for women suffering from post-abortion trauma to seek emotional and spiritual healing. One who chooses to argue against this point may have difficultly backing it up, considering how post-abortion trauma is rarely discussed in the media, much less in public. A recent episode of HBO's Sex and the City comes to mind, where one principal character encouraged another to abort an unplanned pregnancy. She cited how she had two of her own, waving off the memory as if recalling a trip to the dentist.

The real world is not always this accurate, and few support groups, if any, match the mission statement of Rachel's Vineyard. Abortion, as one faction would have people believe, is supposed to provide "relief, not grief," writes Burke, though this does mean a woman will not experience grief or loss following an abortion. The grief, despite the pro-choice movement's determination to soften the edges of the procedure, is real, and the pain of post-abortion women recorded by Dr. Burke in Forbidden Grief reflects but a fraction of the emotional trauma a woman can suffer, as if mourning the loss of a child brought to term.

Forbidden Grief is a compassionate book, a survey of why women choose to terminate pregnancies and why they do not feel better for having done so when they were led to believe otherwise. The book is not necessarily an argument against abortion, nor are Dr. Burke's subjects berated for having made the choice to abort. Dr. Burke's book serves to examine the various cause and effect processes involved in abortion, and to inform readers that emotional support can be had without bias.

There is Tina, so obsessed with pregnancy after her abortion that she tried to compensate for the loss by fashioning a towel under her dress to give the impression that she was expecting. Barbara, having undergone three abortions, purposely became obese to the point that she could no longer walk as a method of self-punishment. There are others, some who experienced abortions in the double digits, all of whom acted out their pain in different ways. Some baffled friends and relatives with their behavior, and others chose to withdraw from the world, but all shared a common thread aside from abortion: they came to Dr. Burke for help.

Dr. Burke writes that "healing can only happen's story is revealed to others who do not seek to judge or condemn." Forbidden Grief is not a how-to healing manual for post-abortive women, but it is a valuable tool in helping everyone -- regardless of whether or not they have had an abortion -- understand that post-abortion trauma is real and as such should be treated as a legitimate problem. One would not tell an alcoholic or a compulsive gambler to just "get over it," people with these problems would be encourage to seek professional help. So, Dr. Burke reasons, should any woman or man affected adversely by abortion, and it is this reasoning and Dr. Burke's desire to make this type of trauma known that makes Forbidden Grief a welcome resource.

A Vow of Sanctity: a Sister Joan Mystery by Veronica Black

St. Martin's Press, 0312094086, $16.95

Sister Joan of the Daughters of Compassion is on a summer solo retreat in a small Scottish town, encouraged by her Mother Superior to strengthen her contemplative life and stay out of trouble, as few people in the convent approve of the young nun's propensity for sleuthing. Try as she might, trouble has a way of finding Sister Joan.

She doesn't mind the hollowed-out cave that is to be her summer home; having taken a vow of poverty, Sister Joan is certainly used to much less. What she did not expect, however, was the town's general dislike for all things Catholic, not to mention the silent grumblings of a few monks due to her constant presence at the local monastery to paint some scenery, and the occasional chilling appearance of a shadowed figure called "The Black Morag" who roams the lakeside near the nun's retreat.

In between prayers, Sister Joan manages to become entangled in a rocky romance of sorts between a lapsed Catholic boy, whose long-ago disappearance of his father piques the nun's interest, and the local Protestant minister's daughter. Meanwhile, somebody is stalking the nun, trying to scare her away from the monastery before she sticks her nose where it doesn't belong.

A Vow of Sanctity is the first Sister Joan novel I've read, though it's not the first one written. It's a mild attempt at mystery, seeing as how the truly interesting events are related in dialogue and not action. None the less, this is a short and pleasant read painting a charming view of the Scottish landscape and teaching tolerance among those of different faiths.

Fabric of Faith by Nancy Brandt

Wings ePress, Price TBA

Note: this review was written for the novel during its original eBook run, before the pending Wings reprint.

Dr. Chance Meyers, mourning the untimely death of his wife, comes across sackfuls of untouched fabric from her sewing room. The room and its contents, like Chance's relationship with his two children, has been negelected following this tragedy, and Chance feels compelled to find a home for the cloth, thinking some avid quilter may be able to stitch together the fabric just as he needs to stitch his family back together.

Mary Grace Caster runs the local fabric shop, but lately her duties at the store are distracted by the antics of a wayward friend whose self-destructive behavior is affecting Mary Grace emotionally and financially. That a strange, yet handsome doctor keeps trying to unload his late wife's fabric scraps upon her is at first irritating to Mary Grace, yet as she becomes acquainted with Chance and his estranged teenaged daughter she feels moved to help the only way she can, through prayer.

Fabric of Faith is a sweet story of the power of faith in the face of conflict and denial. Calm, quiet Mary Grace is a pillar of common sense, having survived the unsavory lifestyle in which Chance's daughter is dabbling, and her cautious romance with the grieving Dr. Meyers is at first tense, then tender. Brandt's Fabric of Faith offers romance fans a new voice in inspirational fiction and the world of electronic publishing.

The Last Fisherman by Randy England

Convent Hill Publishing, 0967360706, $9.56

The Last Fisherman, Randy England's novel about the last Pope and the dawn of the antichrist, is unique in that not only is the story told from a Catholic point of view, but from the biblical Catholic point of view. Where Bud MacFarlane's Pierced by a Sword has given us an interpretation of the End Times according to Marian prophecy, The Last Fisherman plot flows along what we know from Revelations, which makes for a compelling and frightening tale, particularly when the antichrist -- an American politician who sounds all too familiar to me -- attempts to take the world under his control.

Brendan Shea, a young parish priest whose primary concerns at the beginning of Fisherman concern the issues in his own community, is caught off-guard when he is elected Pope without the benefit of having risen through the ranks of the religious hierarchy. Nevertheless, he accepts the position as God's Will, but with the new job there is presented a challenge as a rogue group of Cardinals elect an anti-Pope whom the public prefers. Brendan, left to lead the remnant Church underground, fights to preserve the Faith as the procephies of the Book of Revelation become all too true under the sinister regime of the antichrist.

The Last Fisherman makes for a quick read, as one may have trouble putting it down without finishing. My only wish is that the story could have been longer; it is a slim book but a very well-written one, a fine addition to the Catholic fiction genre.

There We Stood, Here We Stand: 11 Lutherans Rediscover Their Catholic Roots by Timothy Drake, ed.

1stBooks Library, 0759613206, $15.54

You don't have to be a Lutheran to read There We Stood; anybody with an interest in the Catholic faith and why people from Protestant denominations "cross the Tiber" will find this title on par with the other great apologetics books in print.

There We Stood chronicles eleven former Lutherans -- including a few female pastors -- on their spiritual journeys and how issues such as the Lutheran church's stance on abortion and how Martin Luther's original teachings differ from that of the church today affected their decisions to convert.

I enjoyed reading especially the stories of the female pastors, all of whom were fully aware that their ordinations would not transfer over to the Catholic faith as they might for a male pastor, even a married one. To read how they decided Christ in His Church was more important was truly inspiring, and they prove that women do have an important place in the Church, serving through various other ministries.

All in all There We Stood is a well-written collection of essays and a wonderful testimony for the Catholic faith. It's been said the Church's greatest promoters are converts, and this book proves that theory.

Unicorn in the Sanctuary by Randall England

TAN Books, 0895554518, $8.00

Some people might think Unicorn in the Sanctuary could qualify as a horror book, for all the information about Catholic dissidents and others trying to incorporate New Age sentiment in the Church. Alas, this is all too real...I've seen it myself in churches I used to attend.

Does it strike you as odd to see a church bulletin announcement for an enneagram workshop? Unicorn in the Sanctuary effectively explains how the practice clashes with Catholic teaching, and England does a satisfactory job of detailing other various movements trying to infiltrate the Church, including visualization, channeling, and other New Age ideas.

The only thing that bothered me were the references to Dave Hunt's works as supplemental reading about the New Age influence in Christianity. Mr. Hunt is rabidly anti-Catholic, and it bothered me to see his works were included in the bibliography of a Catholic book. I understand from the author, having heard from him since this review was first printed elsewhere, that Unicorn is the first such book to tackle this subject, as the work Fr. Mitch Pacwa (Catholics and the New Age) was not yet available. England also mentioned that Dave Hunt's anti-Catholic literature had not been published when he was researching Unicorn. At any rate, I'll certainly not hold the references against him, and neither should the reader.

The Suffering Servant's Courage by Christine Haapala

The Suffering Servant Scriptorium, 097039960X, $7.00

Note: this review was written on September 17, 2001, in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Given that October is the month of the Most Holy Rosary, and considering the recent events happening in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania, it is appropriate to review Christine Haapala's book, The Suffering Servant's Courage now because prayer is needed now more than ever. Haapala's book is a collection of Scriptural prayers designed as meditations for the Rosary prayer, and is for, as the publisher emphasizes, "everyone who wants to pray and unite their sufferings with the sufferings of Christ."

Accompanied by vivid and at times heart-rendering illustrations depicting the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary by 19th century artist Gustave Doré, The Suffering Servant's Courage offers to complement the Rosary with the comforting Word that reminds us of how Christ suffered for us and how we should lay our own sufferings at His feet. The Suffering Servant's Courage is a book one should refer to during such times of spiritual need, no matter how great the suffering.

Catholicism and Fundamentalism : The Attack on Romanism by Bible Christians by Karl Keating

Ignatius Press, 0898701775, $14.95

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.--1 Peter 3:15-16

It should be the duty of every brother and sister of Christ to be prepared to defend one's Catholic faith, particularly in a time where much attention is focussed on the mystery that shrouds the twenty-first century. Are we living in the "Last Days"? Who will rise to power as the Antichrist mentioned in Revelations? Are we, as Catholics, doing right by God?

As one of the nation's many, many K-8th grade Catholic students, I thought once I graduated from Sacred Heart Catholic School in Jacksonville, Florida I no longer needed to advance my religious education. I had a Bible, I attended services and kept to God's Commandments and Sacraments and left it at that.

Once away from the protective shell of my parents' home, however, I became exposed for the first time anti-Catholic environments. I discovered Jack Chick and his merciless comic strip attacks on my faith, and recently two Jehovah's Witnesses arrived at my doorstep waving a pamphlet depicting a woman groveling before a statue of Mary. The caption underneath read "idol worshipper." I was stunned. For twenty-five years I was certain I a was a "good Christian", praying to Jesus for strength and wisdom and abiding by His rules, only to learn that many factions insisted I was living a lie.

Catholics questioning their faith, like myself, will want to arm themselves with knowledge of apologetics, and the logical place to start would be with Karl Keating's Catholicism and Fundamentalism, an excellent resource for clarifying and strengthening one's Catholic faith in Christ. Keating, the founder of Catholic Answers, has written this book with two purposes in mind: to point out those most guilty of anti-Catholic behavior and to provide the means of successfully defending the motives of the Catholic Church.

Catholicism and Fundamentalism is well-researched and presents well-defined arguments for the succession of popes, veneration of Mary, Eucharistic adoration, and other factors that separate Catholic and Protestant faiths. Arguments against the Fundamentalist position of sola Scriptura are also discussed, as are tips on how to become a top-notch Catholic apologist.

Whether you are trying to defend your faith or learn precisely what the Catholic position is, Catholicism and Fundamentalism is the ideal book in which to rediscover faith in Jesus Christ and His church.

A Philadelphia Catholic in King James's Court by Martin de Porres Kennedy

Lilyfield Press, 0967149215, $12.95

Michael O'Shea is surviving a bittersweet summer. Following the loss of his father, his family elects to spend time with the family of his mother's brother, staunch "Bible-believing" folk who choose to live practically like the Amish. As if dealing with the death of his father was not enough to bear, Michael soon finds himself cornered by people dismissing his Catholic faith as "pagan."

Explanations outside of actual Bible quotes fall on deaf ears, and soon Michael is self-propelled into a crash course in apologetics, with only the Bible and the prayers of his mother to sustain him. As Michael prepares to successfully defend the Faith against the local nay-sayers, many of whom know much of the Bible by heart, he finds himself becoming more confident in this mission set out for him. It is his knowledge of the Faith through God's Word which helps establish an atmosphere of tolerance which some in this tight-knit community are more willing to embrace than others.

Michael's dialogue and evangelization is well woven into Kennedy's prose; he delivers the facts without making it sound as if the "Philadelphia Catholic" is reading his lines from a book. Having visited Amish country myself, I also found the story's setting quite engrossing, and I enjoyed reading Kennedy's detailed portrayal of life among the "plain" people as well. Philadelphia Catholic is a book adults as well as young people can enjoy, a great informal apologetics tool.

The Deadly Habit by Mike Manno

PublishAmerica, Inc., 1893162680, $17.95

A popular young nun is killed in an apparent car bombing just weeks before taking her final vows, and Detective Jerome "Stan" Stankowski is called to solve the case. Paired with the moody yet instinctive deputy Attorney General Parker Noble, Stan finds he is getting more than he bargained for in The Deadly Habit: a victim with no apparent enemies whose father, a tyrannical newspaper publisher, may or may not have been the actual target. That the father collected enemies the way some people collect baseball cards is no help to Stan in whittling down a list of names. When Buffy Coyle, an amorous young ex-reporter, wants to play detective herself (and eventually play "house" with Stan), the detective soon finds some things are more aggravating than solving a crime.

Manno's style in The Deadly Habit is to the point, much like a "Dragnet" police procedural. Stan, telling the story in first-person narrative, offers the reader little in the way of personal information, and that makes him all the more appealing. Viewing Parker Noble through his eyes is a fascinating exercise as well, and it is fun to see Stan continually grow agitated with Parker's quirky behavior: his constant phone calls to check on the well-being of his dog, his acquired taste for flavored coffee, and an appetite for food that would normally stop the heart of a healthy man -- equally deadly habits depending on one's point of view.

I must admit, though, I felt somewhat frustrated while reading, yet I was compelled to finish because I just had to know the killer's identity. Manno offered a number of reasonable motives and slyly planted the clues where I could not easily find them as I have in other mysteries. He had me literally guessing until the end; I suppose in a way the gruff Parker Noble got to me the way he did to Stan -- he just grows on you, and becomes quite a habit himself.

A recent e-mail from the author tells me that his contract with the publisher PublishAmerica has expired, and for now the remaining copies of The Deadly Habit are only available through his website. Manno is currently finishing a second installment of the Parker Noble mysteries, so here's hoping another publishers will pick up this habit.

Sea of Hope by Penelope Marzec

Awe-Struck E-Books, 1587490447, $4.50 disk or download

Paperback version $11.95

To say Doria Hanrahan is experiencing loss is putting things rather mildly. A recent mugging which left bruises on her body and memory compels Doria to leave her tony New York City apartment and job for the security of a sleepy harbor town she once despised. She suffers the loss of her sense of security.

Back home, there is nobody to comfort Doria as she grieves the loss of her father; at least, Doria perceives there is nobody there. Her only surviving relative is the local priest, and he is quite busy comforting his flock as they are thrust into the wrath of a hurricane. Doria suffers the loss of companionship.

Her only opportunity to gain financial and personal freedom, she believes, lies in the possession of her late father's trawler - a sale would bring enough money to pursue her dream of opening a restaurant. Doria's suffering experiences new heights, however, when she learns her father willed the boat to Murray Santoro, and he does not want to sell. Tensions rise when cash-strapped Doria insists on joining the trawler's crew as cook for a brief excursion, and when she learns some disturbing common knowledge about Murray she wonders if he is more threatening than the stormy weather tossing the ship around the coast.

Mending fences with humankind as well as God is the central focus of Sea of Hope. Through Doria, author Marzec personfies the fragility of the human spirit as it is haunted by loss - by death, crime, and suspicion - and healed with faith. While this book is billed as an inspirational romance, one could argue that Sea of Hope should not be pigeon-holed into just one genre. The elements of romance are strong in the tense scenes between Doria and Murray, through Marzec also offers readers some very well-written adventure scenes as Doria's harbor hometown braces for the storm. Sea of Hope is a book that appeals to any reader.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Bantam Books, 0553379267, $12.95

Set over a thousand years in the future as the world slowly recovers from devestation in the aftermath of nuclear war, Walter Miller's A Canticle For Leibowitz focuses upon the renewal of Faith in a faithless world. Surviving in the deserts of the western United States, the monks of St. Leibowitz struggle to piece together their history and that of Christianity with the hopes that history will not repeat itself and further destroy civilization. Standing guard over their endeavors is an apparently immortal old man, a man believed to have been resurrected by Christ and is awaiting His return.

As a novel, Canticle is unique in the way that it proves the Christian faith is not necessarily out of place within the science fiction genre -- Miller paints a Catholic precursor to the Mad Max films where man survives through sustaining knowledge. People unfamiliar with the Catholic faith may be put off slightly by the somewhat brusque portrayals of the succession of abbots who oversee the daily monastic life, others may snicker at the scenes where excitement is derived from the discovery of an actual shopping list left behind by their patron saint, not to mention the seemingly archaic use of Latin among the monks (Miller wrote Canticle before the Vatican II council, when Latin was still prevalent in worship. One can only assume Miller though the Latin Mass would always be the norm).

Nonetheless, A Canticle for Leibowitz contains a message that continues to ring true thirty years after its initial publication: that with faith there is always hope for the future, even when everything seems dark.

Dream of Fire by Nicholas C. Prata

Arx Publishing, 1889758280, $16.95

As the world teeters on the brink of apocalypse, with armored warriors ravaging and plundering cities under the supervision of the heartless Kerebos Ikar, a simple priest from the holy city of Kawn Aharon is charged with a monumental task: to find this barbarian and win him to the true faith. Antiphon al-Caliph, of the Order of the White Flame, embarks reluctantly on his journey. He is unsure that he will see his son and Kwan Aharon again, unsure of whether or the self-appointed angel of death, the godless ikar, will have him slaughtered at first sight. Uncertainties become more plentiful when the two do finally meet.

Underneath the layers of Prata's fantasy novel Dream of Fire lays a philosophical tale of redemption and trust. Kerebos, despite the fearless and rough exterior, is a complex man haunted by dreams of a blazing fire that terrorizes and accuses him. His only escape is to further incite violence, but when a serious injury places him in the care of the White Flame priests Kerebos finds the perhaps his current identity - characterized by his oft-bloody sword Mistaaka - is not true.

Prata creates in Dream of Fire a world in which anger and chaos collides with strength of faith; battle scenes are vivid with crashing swords and broken bodies. Though the story appears supplied with stock characters - the trollish enemy from within (the snarling priest Montanus), the femme fatale (Selah, Antiphon's unfaithful beloved), the wizened sage (Dokein, this world's papal equivalent) - Dream of Fire is nonetheless a solid read, a book for the fantasy reader who enjoys an intelligent story of adventure.

Death of an Angel: a Sister Mary Helen Mystery by Sister Carol Anne O'Marie

St. Martin's, 0312963963, $5.39

Sister Mary Helen is not one to let the ravages of age and declining health prevent her from completing a goal, be it solving a murder or doing her best to play guardian angel to someone she believes is in need. In Death of an Angel, however, she's pulling a double duty. A killer/rapist is on the loose in the Oakland area, and the effects of his crimes are felt deeply within the community of Mount St. Francis College when a beloved, elderly friend of the nun's is counted among his victims. Never one to let such a mystery die, particularly one hitting this close to home, Sister Mary Helen is finds a new vocation in her search for the killer.

Her second project, catering to wallflower college employee Angelica Bowers, is by no means shelved, as Sister wants desparately to boost the young woman's self-esteem and lower her calorie intake. Unbeknownst to the nun, Angelica has plans of her own, namely destroying the one thing she blames for her current state: her mother.

Maybe my faith has something to do with it, but I tend to gravitate toward mysteries starring sleuths who wear some sort of religious habit. In many cases the characters are likeable, and treatment of supporting players is fair. In this novel, however, the portrayal of Angelica Bowers as an overweight person, I must admit, bothered me a tad. This is not to say that Sister O'Marie is predjudiced against overweight people, but at times I admit I was bothered by the implications made in this story that overweight is equated to useless. Having lived with weight problems myself, I tend to take such remarks to heart. Maybe it's just me, but I never had difficulty accomplishing what I wished because of my weight.

As far as the mystery aspect of this story, Death of an Angel brought to mind an episode of "The Commish" I saw once with a similar plot. The murderer was, like in this story, met early on, and protected vigorously by a predictable source, hence shedding light on the motives for murder. I won't give the story away, but if you read this story you will easily see who the true angels are and who is trying to be one.

My Treasury of Chaplets by Patricia S. Quintiliani

Patricia S. Quintiliani, 0911218319, $10.95

Naturally when one asks what books a Catholic should keep at home, the Bible and the Catechism come immediately to mind. My Treasury of Chaplets should definitely be listed in the top ten.

Here is this small, thick book will you find compiled just about every Catholic bead prayer recorded; lukewarm Catholics and those interested in the Faith may be surprised to discover that our wealthy tradition of prayer transcends beyond the Rosary; Quintiliani has collected here rosaries and chaplets representing many Catholic devotions, from the Divine Mercy to the Little Flower rosary to devotions for the Holy Wounds, Holy Face, and Precious Blood of Jesus.

Of course, there is a section devoted to the Holy Rosary, and in addition to information on the traditional Dominican five-decade devotion one will also find prayers for the Pro-Life Rosary, the World Mission rosary, and other devotions which may be prayed using traditional rosary beads.

If you want to enrich your life with prayer, let My Treasury of Chaplet be your guide.

Death's a Beach: a Sister Cecile Mystery by Winona Sullivan

Ivy Books, 0804115680, $2.95

Sister Cecile Buddenbrooks is no ordinary nun, at least not the kind any survivor of Catholic school (like myself) would recognize. An heiress with a private investigator's license (see previous mysteries A Sudden Death at the Norfolk Cafe and Dead South for the backstory on this), Sister Cecile supplements the income of the Miami retirement home for Catholic religious with money earned from her detective work. In Death's a Beach, a plum assignment is handed to her as a local banking concerns hires the nun to look into the mysterious death of one of their own and locate some important documents last seen on his person.

For all her contacts and smarts, however, Cecile is unaware that the prime suspect in Elliot Barclay's death is not Barclay himself but Cecile's pre-teen charge, Leonie, who unwittingly was involved in the man's demise. Leonie's secret is not completely sealed, however, and soon Cecile's perogative changes from finding documents to protecting Leonie from a dark underworld of questionable business practices, a admirer of Barclay's bent on revenge, and a bigoted police officer who makes Archie Bunker look like Santa Claus.

By mystery series standards, the Sister Cecile stories are relatively new (Saving Death, however, was just released in early 2000), and all are fresh and entertaining reads. Even the change in locales from Boston to Miami in Dead South does little to dull Cecile's penchant for adventure and the charm of her sidekicks, young Leonie and wise Sister Raphael. Only in fiction can a nun tool around in a Jaguar or a Ferrari and be believable.

Saving Death: a Sister Cecile Mystery by Winona Sullivan

Fawcett Books, 080411899X, $5.85

Sister Cecile of the Sisters of Our Lady of Good Counsel is back, and sought out by a wealthy Central Florida farmer to solve a twenty-year old murder case whose primary character witnesses are either dead or unwilling to dredge up the past. Though Sister Cecile appreciates the private investigation work, which keeps her Miami retirement home for aging nuns maintained, she is reluctant to take money when she believes the case cannot be solved after so long. What she does not know is that that man who hired her was arrested and convicted wrongly for the said murder. Having established a new life twenty years after escaping prison, he is eager for the truth, and for closure.

It turns out, however, that as Sister Cecile investigates, somebody else wants closure. In fact, somebody wants to close the coffin lid on the good nun herself before she discovers too much.

Cecile's detective work (not to mention the urgency to elude a hired assassin) takes her to Providence, where she mixes with some relatives of fellow nun Sister Linda, who's hiding a few secrets under her own veil and gets too deep into the mysterious case that, even when her benefactor wants to quit, she find she cannot stop until the case is solved, even if it means her own life.

I'm a big fan of Sullivan's mystery stories, and Saving Death is a well-written, fast-paced installment to an overall terrific series.