Book Review: 7 Riddles to Nowhere

In her latest novel, 7 Riddles to Nowhere, author AJ Cattapan takes the reader on an intriguing and inspiring journey through the streets and churches of Chicago, as the young protagonist and his friends seek to win a fortune and save their school.


Most seventh graders would have other plans for the money. (Mine would probably want to add a trampoline park and swimming pool to the backyard.) Kam Boyd is hardly your average middle schooler, however, and when he’s presented with the opportunity to win a fortune, he’s determined to succeed in order to save his small school, which is threatened due to financial struggles.

Kam’s only recently moved to the school, but this selective mute had  hoped for a fresh start.  He has already become attached to his warm and generous teacher and several classmates who have befriended him despite the fact that he can’t speak to adults outside of his home, which means he barely talks at school.

Winning the contest is no small feat. Kam and his friends must find the answers to seven riddles, bravely traveling the streets of Chicago. They must also compete with other, less honorable teams, most notably the school bully and his sorry lot of friends. The chase takes them through beautiful city churches, where the clues and answers are hidden in architecture and artwork.

I found myself unable to put the book down as it neared its conclusion. Kam is an incredibly lovable character, and I enjoyed rooting him and his friends on as they strove to win the contest against all odds. There were beautiful lessons in church doctrine and history delicately interwoven into the tale, with the sound message that, “where your treasure is, there also will your heart lie.”

While Seven Riddles to Nowhere is a middle grade novel, I’d recommend it to any child ages 10 and older, and even a younger precocious reader. Every school library should keep this book on their shelves, especially those at Catholic schools. It would also be an excellent addition to school curricula, as an aid to teach tolerance, generosity, courage, and the universality of the Church.

Seven Riddles to Nowheres official release date is August 31, and author AJ Cattapan is holding  a Facebook launch party to celebrate. She’s giving away lots of wonderful prizes, including a signed copy of my book, A Single Bead, with a rosary blessed by the pope, an Amazon gift card, and more. Follow this link to join the party and have a chance at winning. Please tell her that Stephanie Engelman sent you!

I received an advance copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review: The Perfect Blindside

If you’re sad to see the end of the summer Olympics, The Perfect Blindside, a young adult novel by Leslea Wahl, is a great way to recapture some of the excitement, while also preparing for the winter Olympics, coming in just two short years.

This sweet fictional romance features Olympic silver medalist Jake, who has recently moved to the town of Silver Springs, Colorado, and is firmly confident that he is way too good for the little town or anyone in it. In other words, fame has gone to this kid’s head, and he’s become the cocky athlete we see all too often when watching sports coverage of, say, idiotic stunts pulled in gas stations by swimmers in Rio.

Jake is a jerk, but I liked him because he is, indeed, very real. We have all known a kid like this: too big for his britches and pushing people away at every turn, all the while feeling secretly lonely and isolated.

Seemingly the polar opposite of Jake, Sophie is a high school junior who loves her little home town. She’s pretty much a goody-two-shoes, and, while  the rest of the teenagers in town are fawning allover the new arrived Olympian, she takes an instant dislike to Jake and his cocky attitude.

Jake’s world begins to fall apart when he’s framed for drug possession, and Sophie realizes that perhaps she’s been a wee bit judgmental. Ultimately, she is able to use her knowledge and love of Silver Springs to help Jake uncover the mystery behind the old abandoned mine, thereby clearing his name, all while romance blossoms between the two teenagers.

I would recommend The Perfect Blindside for tweens and teens. Both my ten-year-old daughter, and my twelve-year-old son read and enjoyed it, and since my son isn’t a big reader, that’s quite a complement to author Leslea Wahl!

The Perfect Blindside is offered by my very favorite publisher, Pauline Books and Media, under their Pauline Teen imprint.  While the characters are Catholic, the message is universal and will appeal to all Christian teens. The Christian message is understated enough that teens who don’t identify strongly as Christians will enjoy the book as well. I highly recommend adding it to your family library!

I was provided a copy of The Perfect Blindside by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The links in this post are affiliate links. If you click on a link, and add anything to your cart, I’ll receive a tiny percentage, but you’ll pay the same amount! It’s a great way to show your support for your favorite bloggers. 🙂 

 

#SmallSuccess Thursday

I confess. With the kids starting school this week, I feel like I’ve been struggling just to keep my head above water. But, that’s why I need to find these small successes, anyways.

Small Success #1 – A Magazine Mention

A Single Bead CoverAuthor Barb Grady Szyszkiewicz listed me on her list of “Top ten authors you should introduce your students to” in September’s issue of Catholic Teacher Magazine. Me! Unfortunately, I don’t take this particular magazine – for obvious reasons, since I’m not a teacher. However, I think we can safely assume I was mentioned as a result of  A Single Bead. The mention makes me feel even more urgency to writing the next one, so here’s to ten thousand words this week!

Small Success #2 – Reading Great Non-Fiction

I know there are a TON of women out there who devour non-fiction books like they’re going out of style. I’m not one of them. For me, finishing them is frequently an act of perseverance. Not because I don’t enjoy them while I’m reading, more because there’s no story to draw me in and keep me turning pages. Inevitably, another book draws my attention, and the ADHD part of my brain moves on to the new one without a thought for the old.

However, I am pleased to report that I am persevering in reading Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 10.37.50 AM
TWO non-fiction books right now. One of them, From Grief to Grace, was written by author Jeannie Ewing. It’s well written, with Jeannie’s personal stories of grief interwoven throughout the book, and I’ve found it to be a page turner, even when I’m not reading the “story” part of the book. I especially loved a passage where she reflected on how we could experience joy even in the midst of grief, which so closely reflected my own journey. It’s a beautiful experience – that particular joy – and one which I believe Jeannie’s book will help others to experience as well.

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 10.52.15 AMThe second book, Champions of the Rosary by Fr. Don Calloway, is exactly the book I’ve been waiting for for years – filled with the history of the Rosary, and the miracles associated with it. I heard about this book while I was driving to Chicago several weeks ago. It hadn’t been released yet, so I asked Amazon to notify me when it was. Fortuitously, Fr. Calloway was at the conference, and giving away free copies of the book! My progress is slow, but I’m loving every page.

Small Success #3 – The Crazy Nutrition Plan

One of my favorite meals on this plan, steamed brocolli with spaghetti sauce and goat cheese.
One of my favorite meals on this plan, steamed brocolli with spaghetti sauce and goat cheese.

A few weeks ago I went back on my “crazy nutrition plan” because my energy was low and I had been sick for months. This basically means I’m avoiding wheat, sugar, meat, and dairy. While for sanity’s sake I’m giving myself some leeway, especially on weekends, I’m pleased to report that the energy and illness resolved themselves immediately once I stuck to the plan for a full day. AND I’ve lost three pounds, which, considering that I’ve been hovering at my undesired weight since Little Man was born 18 months ago, is definitely cause to celebrate!

For more #SmallSuccesses,  check out CatholicMom.com!

 

 

 

Sex is NOT the Nourishing Food of Marriage (but it is the apple pie a la mode)

On Friday my Facebook feed lit up with reposts of an article from Aleteia.org, written by Mr. Ryan Williams, entitled “Sex is the nourishing food of marriage,” with the subtitle, “It doesn’t come as the result of other acts of charity in a marriage; it is the cause of them.” (**Please see the editor’s note at the end of this post for an update)

WHAT???!!!

First let me say that I LOVE Aleteia. They cover awesome topics like Simone Biles regularly attending Mass, and Eucharistic Miracles in Krakow. But I must say I am questioning their judgement with this particular article.

The angry, snipey part of me wants to say: “Go figure, a man wrote this article.” Yep. An article that’s all about the “fact” that everything good in a marriage is an outgrowth of sex.

The guy doesn’t even use flowery terms like “marital intimacy,” Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 4.10.43 PM“intimate union,” or “the marital embrace.”

No. He just baldly refers to it as “sex,” the most banal, mundane term that exists for this awesome act of unity between a man and a woman.

That’s right. It is an awesome union. I REALLY LIKE the act of which we speak. A lot. But is sex the food that nourishes a marriage? Are the acts of charity in a marriage caused by sexual intimacy?

Dear Lord, I hope not.

Men and Women Aren’t the Same

If Mr. Williams hasn’t figured this out, he probably needs to, in order to keep his marriage happy. For men, he may be 99% right. Goodness knows it seems as though a man can think very little of his wife one minute, and want to jump between the sheets the next.

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 4.06.12 PMFor women, however, it’s a very different story. If a husband has mistreated, ignored, or maligned his wife, she most likely will want nothing to do with the marital act. If they haven’t spent “quality time” together recently, she will very often want nothing to do with sex. We women are generally sexually attracted to the person who makes us feel loved, important, and cherished. If these needs aren’t being fulfilled, intimacy will often be toward the bottom of the list of things we’d like to do in our spare time.

Good to Better, Better to Great

If things are relatively okay, sex can make them good. If things are good, sex can make them great. And if things are great, sex can bring husband and wife to a physical and a spiritual intimacy that can be known in no other way on God’s green earth.

However…

Sometimes Sex Isn’t on the Menu

If sex were the “nourishing food of marriage,” from which all acts of charity arise, how would a man ever care for his elderly wife suffering from Alzheimers, who no longer recognizes him as her husband? How could he possibly change her diapers, spoon-feed her, and help her in the shower?

If sex were the “nourishing food of marriage,” how can a woman caring for her brain-injured husband help him to “re-learn his history,” oversee his therapy,  and sort out all of his medications? How could she remain patient (albeit imperfectly) when his reactions are inappropriate and disinhibited?

Are these couples less married because they can’t partake in the marital act?

From where do these caregivers’ many acts of charity arise? Mr. Williams would have us believe that such acts cannot, in fact, exist because these couples aren’t uniting fully in their marital bed!

Let’s look at this from a different angle

A priest is married to the church. If acts of charity in marriage arise only out of sexual union, as this article would have us believe, how on earth can a priest carry out his duties of endless self-donative love for his parishioners and Christ’s people?

Likewise, a nun is married to Christ, united with Him in a holy union unlike any that we married folk will ever understand. She performs countless charitable acts for her students, strangers, the poor, the disabled. How can she possibly perform these acts when she can not make love to her Beloved?

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 3.57.41 PMHow?

And just consider for a moment the Holy Family, the most perfect family ever to exist on this earth, upon which we are meant to model our own families. If charitable acts flow only from sexual intimacy, how was Mary able to serve Joseph, and Joseph able to serve Mary?

Sex: The Apple Pie a la Mode of Marriage

I’d like to counter Mr. Williams’s with the argument that sex is not the nourishing food of marriage. To try to stick with the “food” analogy, I’d argue that, for us dessert lovers, sex is the apple pie a la mode of marriage – the pièce de résistance which more fully unites us, which makes us feel more wholly one.

But there are many other wonderful delicacies on our menu, even if Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 4.42.59 PMwe’re not enjoying dessert. There’s the meat and potatoes of long hugs and extended kisses. There’s the delicious mozzarella sticks of holding hands. There’s the  delectable fresh bread of laying in bed spooned into one another, even though you know this cuddle is going absolutely nowhere.

We can still have a perfectly wonderful meal, even if apple pie isn’t on the menu. In fact, skipping dessert while more fully exploring other menu options can lead us to a better understanding of what we both enjoy, while also leaving us feeling more satisfied and maybe even a little healthier.

Likewise, a marriage can be strengthened through abstinence, whether it’s forced or voluntary. The acknowledgement that our union transcends beyond the physical and can survive the lack of the physical can increase trust and improve our ability to give selflessly. Moreover, it can help us to recognize that our ultimate goal and responsibility is to aid our spouse on their journey toward the ecstasies of the heavenly kingdom, rather than toward the ecstasies of the world.

With all this in mind, I would ask Mr. Williams, and all married people, to consider the roll sex plays in their lives and marriages. Can your marriage survive – and thrive – without it?

If it can’t, I suggest that you consider broadening your menu.

**Editor’s note: The article referenced on Aleteia has been changed since I originally wrote this post, for which I am extremely grateful.*** The article no longer states that “Sex is the nourishing food of marriage,” but that “Sex is kind of like the nourishing food of marriage.” (emphasis mine) The subheading has also been changed, from indicating that sex is “the cause” of charitable acts, but that sex is “a cause” of charitable acts. This is a huge distinction, drastically changing the meaning of the article, in my opinion. Thank you to Aleteia and Mr. Williams for clarifying the author’s intent. I do not know whether the body of the post has been substantially changed. In the interest of editorial integrity, I will leave my post unchanged.

***another Editor’s note: I initially indicated that I “was extremely grateful” that the article’s title and subtitle had been changed. Upon reflection, I realized that’s not true. I’m actually extremely ticked that the article would be so substantially changed. In this “blogosphere,” changing articles substantially is not okay. I’m grateful that the clarification was made, but wish that it had been done in a way that was more honest and respectful of the original content and context.

Small Success Thursday – My First!

Trying out another new linkup today and I must say that I LOVE the idea of this particular linkup! All of us have small successes to celebrate, if we will only open our eyes to look beyond the failures. Here are three of mine from this week.

Small Success #1 – I’ve Been Praying More

I’ll admit. It’s been a little hit or miss lately. Regular readers will understand why. But, the fact of the matter is that prayer saved my life (figuratively) and, I believe, my husband’s (literally). Therefore, the importance of returning to that solid prayer foundation, even while we’re still in a  little bit of crisis-mode, has been weighing heavily on my mind.

Pray the Rosary every day to obtain peace for the world and the end of war.-3The conference I went to at the end of July convicted me on one thing. We must pray the Rosary. Every day. By ourselves, in community, with our families. However, whenever. We must do it. And yet we don’t do it. Even this “Rosary girl” had fallen into a bad habit of going to bed at night even if I hadn’t prayed my daily Rosary. My greatest small success of the last two weeks, therefore, is that I’ve prayed at least five decades every day, sometimes with Ray, sometimes with the kids, sometimes by myself at midnight because I refuse to go to bed if I haven’t done it. It’s amazing how that practice helps to bring peace into my home and my life.

Probably as an outgrowth of my renewed Rosary habit, I made it to Adoration last week, I went to Reconciliation, and I’ve gotten up early every day to read the daily Mass readings, pray, journal, and otherwise spend quality time with my Beloved. The hardest part is tearing myself away.

While I’m still woefully imperfect, these practices make me a much better wife and mama.

Small Success #2 – Of the Professional Sort

It’s been a good week professionally, too. I learned that my proposalScreen Shot 2016-08-11 at 5.36.12 PM
to speak at the National Catholic Educational Association’s (NCEA) annual conference next April was accepted. They apparently receive a lot of proposals, so I’m pretty geeked that mine made the cut. My topic will be “The Power of Fiction to Change Hearts and Minds.” Please let me know in the comments if there’s a fiction I should read as I prepare, especially (but not limited to) any Catholic fiction.

I also spent three glorious hours Wednesday night, staying up until 1:30 in the morning, working on character development and the plot outline for my next book. I think I’m on to something, and that feeling is pretty amazing.

Small Success #3 – I’m Finally Getting Organized

Having Ray home has given organization a new urgency, since brain injury survivors thrive with routine and a schedule. For the last few weeks, I’ve been relatively successful at providing a daily schedule, and sticking to it. This week, I’ve used my old-fashioned Franklin Planner to keep track of important tasks and appointments. Far fewer things are falling through the cracks, and I feel much less overwhelmed. Last weekend, this extended to my pantry, when I finally broke down and organized it (and found tiny bugs eating the dog food. Lovely).

It feels SO GOOD to open that door and be able to see the floor. It feels even better to know that I’ve killed all those slimy nasty little insects.

These are just a few of my #smallsuccesses of the past week. Please share yours in the comments! And, for more small successes from other great bloggers, visit CatholicMom.com!

#WorthRevisit – Rollerskating with my Father

Looking back a few years to a post that’s “worth revisiting.”

A couple of weeks ago, I took my six year old son to his school’s roller skating party.   Being six months pregnant, I had no intention of skating.  However, my heart broke as I watched the poor guy trying to stay up on his skates, falling every couple of yards.  I couldn’t possibly leave him to do this on his own, and I decided to take the risk, figuring that I could protect my belly and the worst that was likely to happen was a broken wrist.

IMG_1734
Me and that “little boy,” now twelve years old!

So I joined Zachary on the skating floor and held his hand as we went around in circles, skating to the music.  Before long, he was able to make it several laps without hitting the floor.   Of course, there were times when I decided that the safest and best thing to do was to let him fall. There were other times when he began to fall, but I was able to hold onto him and keep him upright.  Several times, he got a little irritated with me, saying that I was hurting his wrist by holding him up.  Nonetheless, after a few songs, Zach shouted up to me, “Mommy, it’s easier when I’m holding your hand.”

Of course, that warmed my heart.  It also made the embarrassment of feeling like a whale in roller skates well worth it.

But a thought struck me and I considered it as we skated, drawing many parallels to our situation.  Life is easier when I’m holding onto my Father’s hand.  This is especially true in new or difficult situations, but even when I am coasting through life and everything seems to be going well, it’s great to have His companionship, someone with whom I can skate along, talking and enjoying the music of life.

As long as I continue to skate side by side with Him, following His path, I will be less likely to fall.  At times, he will hold me up, preventing my fall.  Sometimes, that might not feel so good to me, just like my vice grip on Zach’s hand didn’t feel good to him.  Those times are unanswered prayers, or answers that I don’t care for, or times when following God’s will is not the easy thing to do.  Jesus going to the cross in accordance with the Father’s will is the prime example.

Other times, He will let me fall, to learn a lesson that must be learned in order for me to grow closer to Him and more like Jesus.  When I fall, I have two choices – I can sit on the ground, wallow in my misery, and let all of the other skaters (a.k.a. the cares of this world) run over me.  Or I can look up, seek God’s hand once again, and with His help rise above the painful tumble.

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?” (Matt 7:9-10)  Just as I saw my son having a rough time and went to help him,  our Father is always there to help us.  Only He helps us perfectly – every time we need it, to the degree we need it, in the manner in which we need it.

Are you skating hand in hand with your Father?  Or, have you gotten caught up in the music and you’re rushing ahead of him?  Perhaps you’re reluctant to follow a path He is trying to guide you down, and so you are lagging behind.  Have the cares of this world plowed you over?  Look up.  He’s holding out His hand.

For most #worthrevisit posts, check out the link up on Allison Gingras’s Reconciled to You Blog.

An Amazing Week

I had an amazing week last week. Filled with networking, inspiration, and a little media attention, it was quite the departure from my normal life of cleaning dishes, shuttling kids, and changing diapers.

Tuesday, I headed to Schaumburg, IL for the Catholic Marketing Network’s annual trade show, and Catholic Writers’ Conference Live. This was the first such conference I’ve attended and, while some of my expectations were not fulfilled (like the ridiculous notion that I would have time in the evenings to write), other expectations were far exceeded.

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 5.19.55 PM
From L-R, Me, Jeannie Ewing, and Amy Cattapan

One of the best parts was meeting lots of other authors whom I’ve previously known only through social media, most notably Jeannie Ewing (author of From Grief to Grace) and A.J. Cattapan (author of the YA novel, Angelhood.)

Then there was the fact that I

I gave Fr. Calloway (and many other influential figures) a copy of A Single Bead, and got this picture. He was so nice. Prayers that the many books given away bear fruit!
I gave Fr. Calloway (and many other influential figures) a copy of A Single Bead, and got this picture. He was so nice. Prayers that the many books given away bear fruit!

got several  advance reading copies of upcoming books. How cool is that??!! Not available in stores yet, y’all, but I’ve got it sitting in my pile of “Books to Read ASAP.” The two I’m most excited about are Kelly Wahlquist’s Walk in Her Sandles – Experiencing Christ’s Passion Through the Eyes of Womenand Fr. Don Calloway’s, Champions of the RosaryI’ll do my best to post reviews once I finish each book!

One of the many beautiful mosaics at the Shrine.
One of the many beautiful mosaics at the Shrine.

Daily Mass four days in a row was lovely, and there was an adoration chapel right there at the trade show. We also did a pilgrimage to  Marytown, and the shrine of St. Maximillian Kolbe.

with bonnie rodgers
With Bonnie Rodgers of Catholic TV

As far as that media attention goes, first, I spoke with Bonnie Rodgers of Catholic TV, America’s largest online Catholic television network. Bonnie is one of those people that has the gift of making you feel like you are one of her dearest friends from the moment you meet her. As you would expect under such circumstances, I think the interview went well.

ewtn bookmark
With Doug Keck, on EWTN Bookmark

Next came an interview with Doug Keck of EWTN’s Bookmark. This was an interview that almost didn’t happen, since EWTN rarely covers fiction. Fortunately, the producer gave me a window of opportunity to present A Single Bead to Mr. Keck. I had a long while to wait before I got to speak to him, all the while sitting perched on a chair in the booth and feeling rather awkward. I spent the time praying that if God wanted me to be on, Mr. Keck would be open to it. And, Voila! I got on.

Finally, on Thursday, I was interviewed on a local Chicago Catholic radio station, WFSI fm.  I confess that by the end of three shows, I started to feel a wee bit repetitive, but in this show I had a chance to share the story of God’s providence through our recent family events. I feel so blessed to be able to look back and see His hand so clearly, and love sharing!

All three interviews will air sometime in the next month. I’ll keep you posted!

IMG_4622
Posing with my favorite book, wearing a fabulous consignment store find.

Wednesday evening, there was a “Meet the Author” book signing event, during which I signed about 150 copies of A Single Bead. Believe it or not, my hand barely got tired, although my handwriting did get rather sloppy. It was actually a lot of fun – if exhausting – to get to talk to so many people about my book, share my  “elevator pitch,” and hear a little bit about their lives and the people who they thought might enjoy reading about Kate and her grandma’s rosary bead.

daughters of st paul
With Sr. Martha and Sr. Susan, at the Pauline Books and Media booth

I had a wonderful dinner with two sisters from the Daughters of St. Paul, and was blessed to hear the stories of their callings into religious life. I shared several meals with likeminded Catholic authors, from whom I was able to learn and be inspired.

It was an insanely busy week. I didn’t think it was possible, but I came home feeling even more exhausted than before I left. However, I was also rejuvenated and exhilarated, determined to develop a family schedule that will support family peace and my writing, with lots of new ideas for promotion and marketing of A Single Bead and future projects, and ready to face writer’s block (or “writer’s dam,” as author Karina Fabian prefers to call it)!

May it all be done for the Glory of God!

 

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