Roland West, Loner by Theresa Linden
This is the first book in a fantastic series about the West Brothers. This novel centers around the relationships between brothers and friends. Roland West would be a fantastic book for middle school and high school boys. Don’t get me wrong – this story is so entirely engaging and well-written that anyone would enjoy but I don’t come across a lot of YA novel’s completely from a boy’s perspective. Linden knows boys well and writes from this point of view perfectly.
I absolutely loved the development of the friendship between Roland and his neighbor, Peter. I also enjoyed the character of Caitlyn and the sweet relationships she had with both boys. Even though it’s titled Roland West, Peter has his own very interesting story line and issues to overcome. The author fused the two boy’s story lines together brilliantly through an adventure they embark on together.
There is a deeply religious aspect, about saints and relics, that was brought up in very intriguing way. This is a subject I’ve never seen addressed before in YA fiction and I think the readers will find it as interesting as I did. Linden does a wonderful job of drawing the reader into Roland’s life. There were times I wanted to scream in frustration by how he was treated by his manipulative brothers. The best news of all is, there are several books in this fabulous series!
Life-Changing Love by Theresa Linden
This is the 2nd book in Linden’s West Brothers Series. One of the unique aspects of this series is the varying POV’s. In this book the chapters alternate between all three of the West brothers and their friend Caitlyn. These different perspectives add a lot of intrigue to the story.
One of the things I admire about Theresa Linden is that she is never afraid to tackle difficult topics and present them from a Catholic perspective. The way she highlights the vast differences between conservative Christian values and societal norms is extremely powerful. Because of this, her books are filled with incredible topics for discussion.
Life-Changing Love focuses on dating in our modern society. The book explores the differences between dating and courting and even broaches the difficult topics of pre-marital relations and teen pregnancy.
There is nothing graphic in this book, but the subject matter might be aimed more for slightly older, mature teens. This is a wonderful pro-life book with an emphasis on theology of the body.
I have read all the books in the West Brothers series and have enjoyed seeing their struggles, their growth, and their relationships grow and develop throughout the books.
Battle For His Soul by Theresa Linden
Battle for His Soul is the third book in the West brother’s series by Theresa Linden. This book focuses more on Jarret West – the brother who spent his life bullying his younger brother Roland, controlling his twin brother Keefe, and engaging in many dangerous and self-destructive behaviors.
This novel has a very interesting twist that the first two books in the series do not. Not only do we see the story from several different character’s perspectives, but we also get to see this story unfold from a spiritual realm. We actually experience the fight between angels and demons that surrounds not only Jarret and his decisions but all the characters. It’s a fascinating concept to think about what could be happening around us as we go about our lives.
Though this book is about a teen boy, it would e great for all older teens – there are plenty of female characters and an intriguing story that illustrates the struggles and temptations teens face and how they can protect themselves from those temptations. One thing I love about Linden’s books is the interesting Catholic topics she includes, and this novel is no different with the idea of being called to religious vocation. What a wonderful chapter in the West boys saga.
Standing Strong by Theresa Linden
Theresa Linden is an amazing talent in Catholic teen fiction. I’m a huge fan of her writing and her ability to completely draw the reader into the moment with her outstanding descriptions. Her newest novel, Standing Strong is the next chapter in her West Brothers series.
There are a few things that make this series for older teens, very special. First, these powerful books are all written from slightly different perspectives, whether from one of the three West brothers – Roland, Jarret or Keefe, from a friend – as in Life-Changing Love, or, as in Battle for His Soul – the demons and angels that are constantly battling around us. Standing Strong focuses on Jarret and Keefe West, the twin brothers who are struggling with very different aspects of their faith.
The other element that makes this series unique is that it is one of the few books I’ve found in the Catholic genre that is written for teen boys. Books for middle school age boys are quite prevalent but, gripping, character driven books for High School boys are more difficult to find. Don’t misunderstand though, Linden does such an amazing job of writing from this perspective that any teenager would enjoy and be moved by these books.
Linden has perfectly captured the heart and soul of the tough Jarret West in this new novel. During the first book, Roland West, Loner, I couldn’t stand his older brother Jarret but as the series has continued, Jarret really developed into a fascinating character. This character that I loathed, transformed into one that I found myself rooting for. He’s made lots of mistakes, did many horrible things, treated people badly, but in the end, realized his mistakes and the importance of his faith. Standing Strong finds Jarret struggling to keep his new found faith focused and strong, while his twin brother Keefe searches for answers to his own calling.
When authors write a series, they hope that all the books will be intriguing and connect with their readers. Linden has not only mastered this goal with her West Brothers Series, but as she’s continued with this powerful family saga, each book has been better than the last. Standing Strong is by far her most powerful and gripping book yet. I devoured this novel, needing to find out what happened next.
Theresa Linden is an amazing talent in Catholic teen fiction. The ease with which she draws the reader into each scene, with outstanding descriptions and her ability to capture the heart and soul of the tough Jarret West, make Standing Strong her most powerful and gripping book yet. I devoured this novel, needing to find out what happened next.
Roland West, Outcast by Theresa Linden
Wow! Theresa Linden is one my favorite authors and her West Brothers series of books is absolutely incredible. There are several things that I love about this series. I love how the author adds unique Catholic themes to the books. I love how she is unafraid to tackle difficult topics. And I love how she changes up the point of view. These stories have unfolded through many different viewpoints – Roland, Jarret, Keefe, Caitlyn, Peter, and even demons and angels!
Roland West, Outcast is told from Roland and Peter’s perspectives. It is actually set during the same time period as Linden’s novel, Standing Strong. This made for an extremely enjoyable read, to see the same scenes but from a different viewpoint. I’m always fascinated by this – how the story can change completely depending on who is telling the tale.
This book also provides some incredible insight into saints and martyrs. I love the line from one of the characters that a particular martyr “…had a lot of courage. All the way to the stake. I admire that. Makes me think there must be something to what she believed.” So true. There are many things we can learn from these incredible faithful servants.
But, my favorite part of this particular book is the subject matter. This is one of the most powerful and impactful books for teens regarding morals that I’ve ever read. Roland West, Outcast is about how to accept and love people who are living in a way that goes against your beliefs. In our society, certain lifestyles that are in contrast to biblical teaching have become widely accepted. This book tackles this topic in a beautiful, faithful way.
There are so many incredible truths in this novel that everyone should hear and be reminded of – especially teens. In this world where we are told to accept everyone and everyone’s beliefs it’s so refreshing to have a book that addresses this from a scriptural perspective. We can be kind and caring but still stand by our beliefs and the church’s teachings, which do not change just because the world wants it to. The church is here to change the world not be changed by the world.
People are so afraid of offending someone that we don’t share the message that needs to be heard. When you truly care for someone as a friend the truth and the fate of their soul is more important than if you offend them. By having the courage to speak the truth you can lead people to Christ and to understand the Catholic church and its teachings, which come directly from Christ through Peter and the popes.
One last thing, I have to include this quote from Theresa Linden because I think it is so beautiful and powerful. “Sometimes you can’t stay silent. No matter what others think. No matter who hates you for speaking. No matter the label they give you. No matter what friends you lose. Because the truth is important. The truth is a person. Jesus Christ.”
Fire Starters by Theresa Linden
Fire Starters is the final book in Theresa Linden’s West Brothers series. If you haven’t had the chance to read the previous books, don’t worry, this book can definitely be read as a standalone. Although, I have a feeling one book won’t be enough and you’ll want to spend more time with these amazing characters. And, for those who have enjoyed the entire series, you’ll be happy to know that many characters you’ve grown to care about over the years are in this story. One of the unique aspects of this series is that the books are written from different unique points of view. The West brothers themselves, friends, and even angels have spurred this series along! This final book is told from the perspectives of Caitlyn and Peter, two of Roland West’s friends.
Theresa Linden is a truly gifted writer who boldly tackles topics that aren’t often seen in YA literature. The strong Catholic viewpoint from which she writes fill her books with truth, knowledge, and faith. I’m also always impressed how her descriptions leave me feeling like I’m right there in the moment with the characters. No matter the genre, contemporary YA, dystopian teen novels, adult suspense, or children’s books, Linden’s ability to bring to life the characters and the worlds they live in, set her novels apart.
Fire Starters is set around the sacrament of Confirmation. Due to previous circumstances, the West brothers have never been Confirmed, so now they must prepare for the sacrament with younger students. When their friends hear about this, they decide to show their support by attending Confirmation class with the boys. This reviewing of the sacrament brings some surprises. The deepening of faith for each of the characters was really beautiful. I’m sure readers will relate to the different feelings that are portrayed through the various characters. Besides the moving faith-based premise, there are also several side stories that add emotion, intrigue, and fun to the novel. Fire Starters would make the perfect gift for the teen in your life.
3 Things to Forget by Cynthia T. Toney
Cynthia T. Toney’s writing is such a breath of fresh air and reminds me of enjoying a glass of lemonade on a beautiful summer day. Refreshing, sweet, and delightful.
3 Things to Forget is the beautiful conclusion to Cynthia T. Toney’s heart-warming Bird Face series. To witness Wendy grow in her faith and mature into a lovely young lady through this series has been wonderful. What a treat it has been to follow Wendy on her journey through middle school and into high school. This character has faced many obstacles with exuberance, determination, kindness, and a strong faith. I think there are many positive lessons for young people throughout these books.
I especially love how the author brings unique characters and interests to all her stories. In this series, readers can easily relate to issues many students face but are also introduced to things they might not know as much about such as – Cajun-Americans, Alzheimer’s, American sign-language, Jewish culture, blended families, and animal rescue organizations. Toney’s writing is full of wonderful discussion opportunities to explore.
So, relax, pour a delicious glass of lemonade, and treat yourself to 3 Things to Forget.
(Review of the other two books in this series, 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status and 6 Dates to Disaster can be found under the Romance category.)
A Single Bead by Stephanie Engelman
This is a beautiful young adult novel that centers around a family in need and a special rosary that affects the lives around them. This engaging story touches on very real and difficult issues such as loss and depression while focusing on the power of prayer and the importance of family. I was intrigued with the main character, Katelyn, and how she was influenced not only by the crisis of faith in her own personal family but also by the very strong beliefs held by her large, extended family. The journey that Katelyn is thrown into surrounding her grandmother’s rosary is mysterious, thought-provoking, and moving. What a joyful message for anyone, that our prayers can be so powerful and life-changing. A Single Bead would make a wonderful Confirmation gift.
The Shadow of the Bear by Regina Doman
The Shadow of the Bear is a modern retelling of the Grimm fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red. This book is the first of the author’s Fairy Tale Novels where she takes an old story and creates a fresh and entertaining tale for modern teens. This exciting novel – part mystery, adventure and fairy tale, is about sisters Blanche and Rose and how their lives are forever changed when a mysterious stranger named Bear happens upon their door, in the “wilderness” of New York City.
There are many things I enjoyed about this book including the very different personalities of the sisters and the incorporation of faith. I especially liked how the innocent sisters found themselves in several precarious situations, a mixture of unlikely predicaments and some very real and relevant dangers of today’s teens. This book is loaded with fantastic topics for discussion – being taken advantage of, stealing, drinking, bullying, drugs, hazards of dating. I will offer a bit of a warning though – if you value your sleep, don’t read this book close to bedtime because the second half of the novel is a real page turner and you won’t be able to put it down. You’ve been forewarned.
Healer by Susan Miura
This Christian YA novel is the story of Shilo Gianelli who has been granted an unusual gift from God – the ability to heal.
Shilo is your average teen, a high school soccer player with a cute boyfriend, an annoying sister, and a best friend who seems too busy for her. But an unusual encounter with a teen mom and her injured son suddenly sends her life spiraling out of control.
This is the first novel I’ve read by Miura and thoroughly enjoyed her writing – especially the voice of Shilo. Miura captured the sass and sarcasm of a teen girl perfectly. While some of Shilo’s actions were frustrating, they totally made sense for a teen girl’s emotional mind.
I really thought this was a fascinating idea and concept. I loved the fact that Shilo must learn that this power is a gift from God. She is the vessel for His healing power and cannot pick and choose who to heal. I appreciated the message that God has a plan and we don’t always know the reason that some prayers are answered, and others are not. Healer is an enjoyable book with wonderful characters, exciting scenes, and a thought-provoking message.
Shards of Light by Susan Miura
Shards of Light is the sequel to Susan Miura’s Christian YA novel, Healer. This story not only revisits the main character from Healer, Shilo, but also tells the story of her best friend Melody. We are also introduced to several new intriguing characters. Besides being a gifted storyteller, Miura always includes diverse characters in her books. The different ethnicities and backgrounds that are represented are always quite interesting.
Shards of Light begins where Healer left off. For various reasons Shilo, who recently found out she possesses healing powers, is sent to Italy to spend the summer with her great-grandmother. Who wouldn’t want to spend the summer in the Italian countryside? Well, Shilo because she must leave behind her best friend, her family, and her boyfriend to live at a convent. But quickly she finds that spending time with her nonna, the nuns, an injured man being cared for at the convent, a houseful of mysterious girls, and an attractive Italian boy lead to a summer that is far from dull.
Back at home, Shilo’s best friend is dealing with her own life-altering situations. Melody was in the last book, but we get to know her much better in this sequel. An unexpected event in her life leads to an uncertain future, new relationships, and revelations from the past.
Interestingly, these two best friends, while thousands of miles apart, are each touched by the horrors of human trafficking. This is such a horrific topic that unfortunately is part of our society. Miura has done a masterful job of bringing attention to this awful reality without it overwhelming the story. Shards of Light is a powerful story about looking for goodness amid the pain and difficulties of life. What a beautiful message for teens. Everyone faces disappointments and the pain of unattainable dreams, but God can use those times in life to lead us on an incredible new path that we never could have imagined.
The Gate by Nancy Carabio Belanger
This YA novel is written from the perspective of the grown-up Joshua, looking back and remembering a life-changing time in his past. The way the story is written I assumed several key aspects of the story, but I just couldn’t wait to see how it played out. I was so moved by the story of Josh and the elderly gentleman he reluctantly befriends, Pie.
The relationship between these two unlikely friends was incredibly touching. My heart went out to both of these characters – the snarky teen and the curmudgeony old man. The voice of the lead character, Josh, is fantastic, the smart aleck language – absolutely brilliant. I could just feel this young boy’s angst and anger as he continued his struggle over the death of his father.
This is such a powerful book about healing and how God’s love works within us and through those we meet. What an inspiring, thought-provoking novel.
Sunflowers in a Hurricane by Anne Faye
What a wonderful story. I really loved this multigenerational tale of heartache and forgiveness. In fact, I enjoyed it maybe a bit too much because I kept putting off work I needed to get done, telling myself I’d just read one more chapter – over and over again.
Sunflowers in a Hurricane is told through three different characters. George, the elderly neighbor who is still grieving the wife he lost years before. Cheryl, the single mom who returns to the home town that she fled as a teenager amidst scandal and trauma. And Ruth, the middle-school age daughter who struggles to understand her mother’s anger and overprotectiveness. Circumstances meld the lives of these three characters as they each deal with painful family issues.
This story is mostly told from the young teen’s perspective which will connect with teen readers. However, I think it’s wonderful for young readers to understand the inner thoughts and personal feelings of the elderly gentleman and the mom as well. To see that adults also struggle with issues and don’t have everything figured out is a fabulous lesson. A thoroughly enjoyable book, with many fantastic discussion opportunities.
Catholic Reluctantly by Christian M. Frank
What a fantastic book! I’m so glad I stumbled across it. Not only is the story extremely engaging but the concept behind the book is equally intriguing – this series of books was written by a collaboration of authors.
The story is about a group of students at John Paul 2 Catholic High School. This is a new school. In fact, there are only 7 students. All the students had a unique voice and personality and the authors did a great job incorporating the characters and their different backgrounds, together. I also liked how the distinctions between the public school, the large Catholic school, this tiny new school, and the homeschool community were dealt with. And, being a fan of mysteries, I thoroughly enjoyed the mysteries that were woven throughout the story.
But, the best part of this book is the message of how hard it is to stand up for and live your faith in our society amid peer-pressure. This is a problem that is very relevant to all teens.
Turning in Circles by Michelle Buckman
This review was a little hard for me to write. While this was not my favorite book, my reviews are not for me but to share books with other people. This Southern novel for older teens is very well written and if you love a good family drama, this might be a great book for you.
It’s just a personal preference, but I tend to steer away from heavy, emotionally charged stories – there is enough of that in real life. I prefer a little more light-heartedness. For example, while there is no denying the popularity and amazing writing and acting in the hit show “This is Us”, I’d much prefer watching an old episode of “Castle”. I know, I’m odd and in the minority here.
This story of two, extremely close, sisters and the drama that tears them apart is powerful and heart-wrenching. I do have to say, I was frustrated with the parents in this story. They were both so wrapped up in their own worlds that they did not see what was happening under their own roof. Although, this might be a realistic depiction of life. Also, at times the dialogue seemed like something from another era not modern day. But I’ve never lived in a southern ranching community so what do I know.
Overall, this book has beautiful descriptive prose and is a powerful, gripping story.
Guarding Aaron by T.M. Gaouette
Guarding Aaron is the third book in TM Gaouette’s Kung Fu series. The series centers around Gabriel, a handsome teen who is dedicated to his faith, his mother, and his martial arts. In the first book of the series, he meets Tanner Rose, a Hollywood starlet and the daughter of his mother’s friend.
Saving Faith, the second book in this series, and now Guarding Aaron continues the story of Gabriel, Tanner, and their friends. Gaouette does a wonderful job of creating relatable characters that you care about. Through the series, I have admired Gabriel, enjoyed the growth of Tanner and Christian, wanted to scream at Faith, and now wish I could hug Aaron.
Aaron is new to the series. His story, which runs parallel to what is happening with Tanner and Gabriel, is incredibly touching. Aaron is being bullied at school. Tired of being the victim, he has decided to take Kung fu classes. This is where he meets older teens Gabriel and Christian who are his instructors. The two storylines are woven together perfectly to make for a thoroughly engaging novel. There are even a few shocking twists that will keep you turning the pages. (One, in particular, had me gasping out loud.)
You don’t need to have read the other books in the series to enjoy this book but I’m sure you will want to eventually so you can spend more time with these characters.
Sydney and Calvin Have a Baby by Adrienne Thorne
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this story. This book is listed as a YA novel, but the subject matter might make some readers a little hesitant. I mean, high school students having a baby is not something you expect to find in Christian teen fiction. But this book surprised me. It was such a delight.
The basic premise of the story is traumatic and horrible – a teenage girl, who is a bit of a nerd and doesn’t really fit in with the popular crowd, is date raped which results in a pregnancy. Her attacker, who had been drinking, dies in an accident right after the incident. Don’t worry, I’m not giving anything away, this information is printed on the back of the book. (I should note, there are no graphic scenes at all.)
Knowing all that, you might think “delight” would not really be an appropriate word to describe this novel. But the book is written from the perspective of Calvin. It’s a bit of an unusual style, and might not be for everyone, but it completely worked for me. His voice was so wonderful. Calvin is from England and his dry, clever comments reminded me of the charm of many of actor Hugh Grant’s characters. I loved the British-isms throughout the book. Through Calvin’s voice, this difficult story is filled with a clever sense of humor and beautiful heart-felt messages.
Poor Calvin has his own tragedy to work through and my heart broke for this fictional teen boy. Somehow Sydney and Calvin’s traumatic tales turn into a beautiful story with powerful messages. There are some wonderful topics for older teens to explore, the dangers of drinking and driving, the sanctity of life, the hurtfulness of lying and gossiping, and standing up for what is right.
It was so sad, but probably accurate, on how many people thought Sydney would be able to go back to her life by getting rid of the problem. And I was a bit horrified that a character, who should have known better, was willing to help Sydney resolve the issue without her parent’s permission. Again, this might be rather accurate, but was shocking to me. I happened to finish reading this book on the same day that hundreds of thousands of people marched in DC for the Right for Life, the timing was quite fitting. The messages in this story, that babies are a precious gift, that good things can come out of tragedies, and that faith is our stronghold, are so important and sadly are not heard often enough in our society.
Grace Unplugged by Melody Carlson
The concept of this book is unique. You may remember Grace Unplugged as a recent movie by the same name. Typically, the book comes first then the movie. In this case, the movie was created first and the author was then approached and asked to write the book. I thought Melody Carlson did a great job of keeping to the movie but making it a great book as well. I’m sure it’s was difficult not being able to create her own unique twist on the story but stay true to the movie.
The story is about teenager Grace Trey, who dreams of making it big in the music industry. Her father was a one hit wonder years ago but left the destructive rocker life he found himself involved in and turned his life around. He now is a worship leader at a church in the south. Trying to keep his daughter safe and her values intact, he becomes a little controlling, in her eyes anyway.
When Grace finds her opportunity to make it big, she jumps at it, leaving behind her family, her church, her friends, and heads to LA. Grace must decide who she is, what her beliefs are, and who she wants to be. This is a good, coming of age story that points out the destructive side of Hollywood. Teens often see fame as appealing and glamourous. This book does a nice job of showing the ugly side.
Overall it is clean but there are some scenes of underage drinking, binge drinking, and dating “expectations”, that may make it more appropriate for older teens.
Nicholas Gilroy: Our Lady and Guardian by Father Stephen and Deacon George
This is a sweet story about a young teen discerning for the priesthood. The book was written by a Priest and a Deacon which added a degree of reality that other authors would not be able to provide. The story is about a young teen boy, Nicholas, who is attending a high school for boys interested in entering the priesthood. This school provides them a taste of life in a seminary. I don’t know if there are many schools like this around but found it quite interesting. This would be a great book for those who are contemplating religious life.
While mostly focusing on Nicholas’ time at the school and his friendships, there was also a side story about gang life in Baltimore which added a bit of excitement and action. This part of the story might be eye-opening to some readers who have not been exposed to inner-city life. This book is a very positive book written for younger teens and gives the reader some interesting topics to think about.
My only hesitation in recommending this book is that the dialogue did not feel true to teens, even if they were quite religious teens. These teens felt a little too good to be true, but some of that is understandable since they are contemplating the priesthood.
Premiere by Melody Carlson
This was a fun story full of insights into the world of reality television. The story follows two sisters, Paige and Erin Forrester who live in the Hollywood area. Their mother is a producer for a local news channel. While helping their mother with an assignment, the sisters are “discovered” and offered a reality television show about fashion.
This book is a few years old. It was published in 2010, but the story is still fun and relevant. The book focuses on the perils of fame, how reality television does not really reflect reality, the importance of family, and doing what is right.
Erin happens to be the only Christian in her family. I really liked that she and her friends are involved in their youth group and church. Erin hopes to use her interest in filmmaking for good and to somehow make a difference in Hollywood by creating wholesome entertainment. Oh, how I wish there were more people in Hollywood with this desire. Although recently, there have been more Christian films made which is a wonderfully positive sign.
This is a light-hearted, fun story with lots of teen drama. It shows teens making very bad choices and how these choices are not making them happy. If you’re looking for a clean, entertaining story with a good message, this might be one for you.
Lost Son by Tamra Torero and Preston Norton
What a surprise this book was. I happened to stumble across this novel while searching for Christian Christmas stories. Even though this story is set on a Christmas tree farm during the Christmas season, it is much more than a Christmas story.
This book is about a teen boy who kills another teen while drinking and driving. This story has a heart-breaking backdrop but is about hope, faith, love, and forgiveness. All these elements are woven into an enjoyable story that is not as heavy and emotional as I expected for such a difficult subject matter.
In all honesty, a few passages probably should have had a little more emotion and drama. And sometimes it seemed a touch too easy for the three main characters to move past the trauma they experienced. However, I think this style is also the reason I enjoyed the book so much. I’ve never been one who likes heavy, emotional drama. The pulling of the heartstrings has always too much for me and a bit of a turn-off. I prefer my drama to be interspersed with humor and romance. I think this approach might also appeal to teens more effectively than a heavily dramatic novel would. Stories have a wonderful way of teaching, but if it is too preachy or emotionally draining, teens could be turned off from the book and miss the important messages within the story.
For Eden’s Sake by TM Gaouette
Author TM Gauoette’s collection of faith-affirming Catholic teen novels has a new addition, For Eden’s Sake. I’m impressed with how unique, and different all Gaouette’s books are, from her heart-warming middle-grade story, her exciting contemporary YA series, to this newly released powerful pro-life novel for older teens.
After a night he desperately wishes he could change, college graduate Isaac finds himself fighting for the life of his unborn child. While the characters are a little older, I think this is a fantastic book for teens to read with an important message. When our teens leave the protection of our homes and move on to college and the working world, they will probably find themselves in situations where they will need to defend their values and beliefs. Sadly, out in the real world, the foundation we teach our kids at home is often questioned, ridiculed, and attacked. It takes a strong person to hold true to Christian values.
I love the message that even when the decisions we make might throw our goals off track if we trust in God, we will get through any troubles. Even in the darkest of times, God has a plan for us. For Eden’s Sake is a powerful story about fighting for what is right, believing that God is with us even in the darkest of times, and trusting that He will get us through any situation.
Beneath Wandering Stars by Ashlee Cowles
I was blown away by this story. Beneath Wandering Stars was one of those books that I couldn’t put down. It’s a powerful story about dealing with a traumatic experience and discovering who you are.
Seventeen-year-old Gabriella Santiago is an Army brat living in Germany where her father is stationed. She is counting the days until her high school graduation so she can get back to the States and far away from the military. But when her soldier brother, Lucas, is critically wounded, her priorities change in an instant. When Gabi finds out that Lucas had dreamed of walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, Gabi is determined to honor Lucas’ wishes as he fights for his life.
There are so many fantastic elements to this story. I was intrigued by the lifestyle of the Army family. It was interesting to see this transient life from the perspective of a soldier’s teen daughter. Experiencing the pilgrimage trek across Spain with the characters was fascinating. Gabriella’s journey is packed with wise words, deep thoughts, and powerful life lessons. And, I loved the voice of Gabi. The witty spunk was superb. Some of the best writing I’ve come across is YA novels. Fantastic book.
Below Northern Lights by Ashlee Cowles
One of the best YA novels I read last year was Beneath Wandering Stars. I absolutely loved the adventurous tale of a young Army brat who was walking the Camino for her injured brother. The voice, the characters, the message, the journey – it was all perfection.
I couldn’t get enough of that amazing story so soon after finishing the book I began reading Below Northern Lights. The author lists this as a companion story instead of a sequel because it is on the shorter side. There might not be many pages in this story, but it is jammed pack with another amazing journey of growth, finding your place in the world, and the courage to tackle the obstacles of life. The only bad part was that this story is short, and I read it way too fast.
The main character in this book is Lucas Santiago. He is a wounded warrior who has lost his purpose and zest for life. His sister convinces him to take a journey to Scotland to search for his best friend who has gone missing. As with the first novel in this duo by Cowles, the characters are incredible, and the insights are so powerful.
This character is a little older, he has finished high school and is in the military but his story is one that teen buys would enjoy and learn a lot from.
The Grace Crasher by Mara Faro
This is a difficult book for me to review for some reason. Probably because there’s a lot going on in this book. A young adult searching for love. An alcoholic father. A dependent mother – make that two. A difficult parent who won’t let go. Discovering out who you are. Figuring out what you believe. Moving away from home for the first time.
Most of the reviews I’ve read for this novel focused on the humor. There are plenty of humorous lines but that is not what really stands out for me. I could really relate to the main character in a few ways. First, I embarrassingly admit to seeing my younger self in this character – not the horrible family life that she had but the dreaming of the perfect relationship part. I’m sure many young women have tried hard to fit a crush into their perfect idea of a romantic partner.
I could also relate to the difficulty that Julia and her love interest had with their faith. My husband and I also had this struggle when we first fell in love. I think this is a fun book but there is a lot of depth to it. This book shows the beliefs of both evangelical Christians and devout Catholics. It touches on some myths and shares many truths. Whether you are curious about a different faith perspective or have a friend who attends a different church than you, this might be a good book to use to open up a dialogue. Be prepared for a few laughs in the process.
Spoiler Alert! What follows will spoil the story of who Julia ends up with. However, I’m going to include this because I was quite confused by the book for a while – unsure if I would be able to recommend it. The story takes some light-hearted jabs at the Catholic church and Born-Again Christians and I wasn’t sure where the author was going with this premise or if I would be comfortable with the outcome. So, if you don’t want to know any more than please stop reading.
When Julia and Mark finally decide to be together, they struggled to find a compromise between his Christian church and her Catholic church. My husband and I also had this struggle. I came from a Protestant background and he was a cradle Catholic. In my real-life story, I was the Christian determined to choose any church except the Catholic one. Slowly over time, I learned that the Catholic church is the first church, the church that Peter began. I discovered that all their strange traditions and prayers are rooted in the Bible. I was shocked to find out that books of the bible and specific teachings from the time of Christ were removed over time by Protestant leaders. I realized that we are all Christians and we all believe in Christ and that through Him we have eternal salvation. Our shared beliefs should be stronger than our disagreements. I often think how sad God must be to see such divisions within His church. I don’t know why Protestant churches so often demonize Catholics. If you think about it that is the exact opposite of what Christians should be doing. I’ve always hoped that through my own novels I can show to my Protestant friends and family that the Catholic church is not what they may have heard. Of course, many people have left the Catholic church, they have had bad Priests, bad church experiences, bad teachers, but those problems are not exclusive to the Catholic faith. Those issues can happen anywhere. As the priest in the book said, “The Church is not those evil people. It’s Jesus and the Saints and the good people.”
I could also relate to how Julia was open to trying different churches. But Mark was completely set against it. This also rings true to my personal experience. I remember my sweet Catholic husband trying different Christian churches for me. But so many times there were anti-Catholic messages being spoken from the pulpit. He had absolutely no idea that some Christians felt that way about Catholics. He truly thought that as Christians, we were all on the same team. And honestly, that’s the way it should be. It was hard to see that through his eyes. And growing up in a Protestant Church I didn’t even know I was receiving these negative, and often untrue, messages. But the best thing that ever happened to me and my marriage is that we had to truly delve into our faith to find out what the different churches stood for, what the Bible really said, and what we truly believed.
Again, I think this is a fun book but there is a lot of depth to it. This book shows the beliefs of both evangelical Christians and devout Catholics. If you have an open mind you can learn about other people’s viewpoints. This book probably won’t change anyone’s church-going experience, but I think it has the potential to really start some deep discussions.
The Mentor by Ryan Shelton
Vincent doesn’t have much in life. An abusive father, a disinterested mother, no friends. He has finished high school with less than impressive grades and has no promising prospects for the future. But he does have determination and a love of baseball which provides him an opportunity to play for the state championship team.
Unfortunately, the coach and his all-star son resent Vincent and nearly destroy his one opportunity to better himself. When an elderly couple see potential in Vincent, they step in to become the loving parents the teen has never had. They believe in him. They see he is a good person, a hard worker, a talented ballplayer, and a child of God.
This is a beautiful story about how important a mentor can be. Even with a loving family, a mentor who is not a parent can make a huge difference. When someone you respect believes in you, that can give you the confidence you need to believe in yourself. This person has the ability to give constructive criticism and guidance that doesn’t feel personal but helpful.
I know that I probably wouldn’t have become a published author without the writing mentor that helped me succeed. I have had two spiritual mentors as well. A mentor can be a coach, a family friend, a teacher, a co-worker. But these are people who can make a huge difference in a life. If you ever have a chance to thank your mentor, do it. And if you have an opportunity to help someone with your own expertise, don’t hesitate, you might make a huge difference for someone.
The Captain by Ryan Shelton
I first encountered the main character, Vincent, in the book The Mentor. Vincent is one of those characters that makes your heart ache, and you long to give him a hug. This poor kid has had a lot to deal with in his life: a neglectful mother, an abusive father, bullying from schoolmates, a vengeful coach, and hardly anyone who has ever believed in him. But baseball has always been his lifesaver, the one good thing in his life. In the first book, The Mentor, an elderly couple takes Vincent under their wing, improves his baseball skills, introduces him to faith, and gives him the encouragement he needs to succeed.
In The Captain, we find Vincent in his few months of college, which his tremendous baseball skills have made a possibility. Vincent starts fine, but when tragedy crashes down on him, his life begins to spiral out of control. This novel is quite powerful but is recommended for older teens due to the issues it delves into, such as depression, drugs, alcohol, and thoughts of suicide.
Experiencing Vincent’s life fall apart made this book hard to read at times. In fact, there were a few nights when this story kept me awake thinking about teens I know who have had serious struggles. Sadly, too many high school and college students face temptations that can lead them down a similar path. This book offers some wonderful positive messages like how life-changing it can be for teens to have positive role models, or how one person can make a huge difference in someone’s life, and how even the darkest of times and situations can be overcome. While the book has some tough moments, it is an amazing story about redemption and turning your life to God.
Full Cycle by Christopher Blunt
Full Cycle follows the life of Alex, an older elementary-age boy, and his family over the course of a year. The story is told from Alex’s perspective as well as his father, Rob’s. It was interesting to see both the father and son change, struggle, and grow throughout the novel. Faith is a part of the story, but the novel is more about discovering yourself, reaching your goals, digging deep within yourself, and the importance of teamwork.
Years before we meet this family, Alex suffered a devastating injury that left him with a noticeable limp. This physical difference makes it nearly impossible for him to participate in sports and makes him a prime target of the school bullies.
When Alex learns about a 200-mile bicycle ride from Seattle to Portland, he becomes fascinated with the event and the sport. He dreams of being part of a community of riders and the freedom of biking. When he learns that his father had ridden in the event, Alex can’t imagine why his dad would have ever given up such an amazing sport.
There were several aspects in this book that I particularly enjoyed—from Alex’s love of music to his brother’s baseball scenes, to the strong friendships, and the encouraging family relationships. Competitive biking was brought to life through the author’s fantastic descriptions. My muscles ached, just reading about it! I also appreciated that the bullying issue reflected real life and wasn’t tied up in a neat little bow at the end of the story.
There was one particular message that I just loved. We all have gifts that God has blessed us with. We have the responsibility to share them with others, otherwise, we are the ones hiding our light under a bushel. What a wonderful visual! It reminds me of something I read by Catholic speaker/author Chris Stefanick, that God created each of us to be unique, and the unique gifts He gave us can’t be shared by anyone else. How sad if those gifts are hidden and not shared the way God desires. This is a great message for us all, especially kids.
This was a beautiful story about the importance of family. Sometimes I see adults who spend so much time on a sport or hobby that it becomes almost an obsession. All the hours spent on their interests takes away from time with their families, which is sad. So, I greatly appreciated the sacrifices this father made for his family and the way Rob selflessly found a way to include his boys in his passion so he wouldn’t be away from them but instead could share it with them, spend time with them, and create amazing memories. This would be a wonderful book to read as a family.
Missing Peace by N.K. Holt
Wow. I could not put this one down. This story about a young soldier and his family is full of heartache, tragedy, miracles, hope, mystery, danger, love, acceptance, and finding peace. As you can tell, there is a lot going on in this book which is definitely one of my favorite books of the year.
When John McKay heads off to war, a series of miraculous circumstances leads this young soldier on a trajectory to fulfill an ancient prophecy, completely changing the lives of his friends and family forever. I haven’t read many books about contemporary soldiers and the conflicts in the Middle East. I wish I could share more about this story, but I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll just cryptically tell you that the ancient aspects of the saga were fascinating, the speculative moments were beautifully heart-breaking, the political issues painfully highlighted the complications of modern-warfare, and the present-day miraculous events offered inspiration and renewed faith. Missing Peace is a fantastic story for older teens.
Ruby in the Water by J.P. Sterling
This faith-based novel is about Peter, an incredibly talented musician, and his family. Despite his acclaimed talent, Peter’s life was not always easy. As a boy, he had difficulty fitting in at school and physically struggled with his cerebral palsy. The book begins as Peter collapses and is rushed to the hospital. As his parents anxiously wait for him to recover, their story is revealed through flashbacks and ends with an intriguing twist.
Anyone who has struggled to fit in at school or has had a child or sibling who faced such difficulties will be able to relate to this novel. Even though the book is about an older teen, most of the story is told through his parents’ memories. I found it a compelling way for the reader to meet and understand Peter. While told from a unique perspective, teen readers may find it interesting to see the story develop from the parent’s point of view.
I truly loved the message that not everyone is the same, and those differences actually make us who we are. Traditional learning environments may work for most students, but for many children, classroom settings can be a real struggle. Sadly, these students often feel that there is something wrong with them, which creates unnecessary heartache. I wish more schools could recognize that all children are uniquely created by God. We should celebrate the differences instead of trying to make everyone the same. One side note – there were quite a few mistakes in this book. I hope that the author takes the time to have this story professionally edited. It’s sad when such mistakes distract from such an intriguing story.
I’ve been enjoying the graphic novel Saint collection by Sophia Press, and when I discovered they had a similar book about the sacraments, I was anxious to check it out. This graphic novel provides an interesting look at the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and First Communion. Through short stories about fictional characters, these elements of faith are brought to life.
This quick read follows the characters of Hannah and Andy through three short stories. I like that these stories show the characters living their faith and encouraging others to do so as well. Sacraments are part of our spiritual journey and should form who we are. They are meant to enhance our lives, not just be programs we feel obligated to attend. As we learn more about our faith, our very lives should reflect the Christian values that we hold dear, and that is what these stories show, teens who proclaim their faith through their daily actions.
This was a unique way to teach foundations of Catholicism and could be a great resource for anyone who has questions about these sacramental pillars of our faith.