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Authors seeking review: please e-mail first before sending a book. Kathryn is currently trying to finish her current queue. Works of Christian fiction and non-fiction are considered; any material of an anti-Catholic nature sent will be discarded.
We Met Online! Stories of Married Catholics Who Met Their Spouses On the Internet by by Anthony J. Buono and Stephen Weisenbach, eds.
As Written Publishing, 1413464653, $21.99

Is Internet "dating" good for the soul? It's not something I've done personally, yet I know people who have tried it, albeit through secular means. One friend's experience did not end well, another's will result in her first face-to-face meeting, and eventually marriage. Having volunteered my services to an organization dedicated to preventing cyberstalking, I can tell you the Internet romance machine has malfunctioned at times - "malfunctioned" more appropriate to describing a train wreck than a simple computer virus.

Yet, reading the book WE MET ONLINE!, an anthology of Internet pairing success stories which some may discern more as a grand advertisement for Catholic matching service Ave Maria Singles, a glimmer of hope is injected into the prospect of finding a life mate online -- for Catholics, it is a rather strong one, endorsed in the book's foreword by Father C. John McCloskey III.

"Long-distance relationships can work. They have for centuries," McCloskey writes. "Obviously the couple will have to move near one another, if not before, then certainly after the wedding. But the beauty of Ave Maria Singles or for that matter old-fashioned letter writing with paper and ink (remember that?) is that it allows the "dating" couple to really explore what matters by exchanging many, many messages over a period of time. This truly allows the "inner you" to be revealed until the moment comes for the face-to-face meeting." Such words help to dissolve the sometimes negative aura surrounding the Internet, and the twenty-five stories following this foreword affirm that faithful, single Catholics in pursuit of a married vocation can find success in the proper environment.

The testimonials from the now married couples in WE MET ONLINE! evidence a varied membership at AMS. Ages range from early 20s to late 50s, some members are widowed or divorced and awaiting annulment, while others (including a few approaching middle age) have never married. There are members with young children, people with medical conditions, and still others living abroad who were willing to look beyond their home country for a mate (the story of Mairead and Tim is especially evident of the power of love, as one mate is willing to migrate from the US to Australia).

For all the differences among the people represented in WE MET ONLINE!, there is some common ground - all turned to God for help in their search for a spouse, all were directed in some fashion to AMS (whether through Anthony Buono's appearances on EWTN or ads in Catholic magazines), and all had one thing specifically in mind: marriage to a like-minded, faithful Catholic. WE MET ONLINE! makes it clear that AMS is not a dumping ground for personal ads or casual contact; a goal is set. Reading WE MET ONLINE!, we learn some people had to wait more than two years to reach this goal, yet the end result was well worth the wait.

Is WE MET ONLINE! worth the read, however? For the discouraged Catholic wading through a sea of frogs to find that prince/princess, Buono and Weisenbach's collection serves as an inspirational tool, that with faith in God and the technology He brings happiness can result. Readers already enjoying the fruits of a happy Catholic marriage, who have no need directly for AMS, may look upon WE MET ONLINE! as a collection of light, romantic vignettes. What would be interesting, for all readers, however, would be a follow-up volume revisiting the same twenty-five couples in five or ten years. As each couple represented in the book has been married three years or less, to see a strong rate of continued success in their marriages would make for an even stronger advertisement for this organization.

The Lord Had Something Better in Mind by Barbara Robinson
Publish America, 1413706800, $19.95

Magnolia Roussel is a determined community college student and hard worker, wanting only to be as good as the boy her mother Myrtle always wanted but never had. Each spring sees her on the family strawberry farm trying to produce an acceptable crop, but when the Roussell berries are marked unclassified by Louisiana state inspectors Magnolia is forced to sell them on her own. With the Lord's guidance, however, she is not worried.

The Lord Had Something Better in Mind takes the reader through Magnolia's struggles--surviving financially, dealing with her mother's constant superstitions, and (happily) her feelings for Andy Drag. Their romance blooms over steamy days of fishing and camping in the Manchac Swamps, so much that Magnolia's love for God and the man who becomes her husband seems to be able to overpower her mother's clucking over a black cat that once crossed their path.

As the story fast-forwards, Magnolia is the mother of a teenaged boy and worried sick about her husband's mysterious disappearance during a hunting trip. In this troubled time Magnolia gives her grievances to God, accepting His will for her future over her mother's lucky charms, and accepts what comes of it.

Reading the introduction of the story (which I would advise skipping if you don't want to be spoiled to some parts of the story), the reader can tell immediately Robinson has put her heart into this story, as some parts are semi-autobiographical. Yet, The Lord Had Something Better in Mind falls victim to similar problems seen in books by this publisher, namely punctuation errors and lax editing (the narrative tends to repeat itself at times, slowing the story in parts). The scenes involving Andy's disappearance and its conclusion draw a number of unanswered questions as well. Despite these pitfalls, Robinson presents an ambitious story suitable for fans of faith.

The Trapping by Anthony Vela
Xlibris, 1413123493, $20.99

Gabe Chaplin has one true love, his art, yet as he observes the devotion of couples around him in the sleepy town of Southwick he yearns for something more. Living at home with an invalid, demanding, and verbally abusive mother, he is not afforded many opportunities to find a companion, and when he does it seems his mother is there to ruin everything. This changes during a visit to the town's first true art museum, and Gabe meets Sara Livingston.

Gabe's love for Sara is immediate and strong, and it is not long before he draws enough strength from this influx of positive emotion to take charge of his situation at home - which begins to prompt a change in his mother's attitude toward him for the better. Only the constant presence of a myriad of black birds swarming the grass and streets foreshadows a sense of the tragic, which Gabe sees in the form of a strange man watching his and Sara's every move, a strange man who insists Sara is not what she seems, and not of this earth...

As his relationship with Sara hits rough patches, Gabe soon learns he must fight for more than Sara's love, he must also save his own soul. Both Sara and the stranger claim the other is a dark force leading him to damnation, forcing Gabe to choose sides, a decision which culminates in a gripping conclusion.

Though elements of Christianity are pervasive throughout the story, it can be debated whether or not Vela's THE TRAPPING should be considered a Christian novel. As one discovers Sara's true identity the more studious Christian may question the accuracy of Vela's characterization - is it possible for an angel to do this or that? Nevertheless, such thoughts should not deter the reader from enjoying the story. THE TRAPPING is a brief but entertaining thriller, with vivid tension between characters (Gabe and his mother, Gabe and Sara) and an unexpected yet satisfying ending.

Heaven's Blue by Penelope Marzec
Awe-Struck, 1587494450, $4.75

Samantha Lyons needs an assistant to help her complete her mosquito research in order to maintain her grants, and her home in quiet Clam Creek. David Halpern needs cash and a place to stay, not just for himself but also for his young son, James. A chance meeting in a church parking lot over a case of mistaken automobile identity brings the two together, and David and James readily take residence in Samantha's guest quarters, but neither Samantha nor David realize the coming impact of their working relationship.

While Samantha and James take an immediate shine to one another, David proves a more tenuous venture. The two clash over James socializing with Clam Creek's more colorful citizens (the flighty spinster Marion, cursed with a facial tic brought on by her mother's demands; the aptly named Fish, always coming by with the fresh catch), but mostly their arguments center around faith, of which Samantha has plenty and David none. Considering David's plight -- having to quit a lucrative job to keep his son away from his abusive ex-wife -- it is understandable, but when his situation comes to light followed by a string of unrelated events, Samantha's faith is tested and is barely able to help her as she struggles with her feelings for David.

With her second inspirational romance (third overall), author Marzec continues to introduce readers to well-rounded characters, deftly crafting their emotions and dialogue into a story of faith and forgiveness - not only of others, but of oneself. Readers who have had the opportunity to enjoy Marzec's impressive debut SEA OF HOPE will not be disappointed with this most recent tale set along the Jersey Shore.

Attack of the Queen by Honor Cummings
Wings ePress, 1590886879, $11.95

The world of Arwhyrrl is peaceful, inhabited primarily by the "tree women" -- followers of the god Janico, each living in symbiosis with her tree. When the tree is threatened or destroyed, so is the life associated with it, yet it is not necessary for a woman to be within proximity of her tree at all times. One such tree woman, the healer Adazzra, is unique among her race in that she has had the opportunity to travel to various worlds with Moonrazer, her "sworn sister" and Exalted Warrior of the Sarl.

Their harmony is interrupted, their friendship at times tested, when Adazzra is summoned to her homeworld with the news that the Vlaad, a godless, bloodthirsty all-male race ruled by a lone woman (a queen bee of sorts), has designs on the planet. As the Vlaad have a reputation of taking no prisoners and leaving none alive, Adazzra and Moonrazer are forced to assemble what forces they can to retaliate. Neither one expects an ally in the form of Feodor, a Vlaad sympathetic to the teachings of Janico who is cast from his army and left for dead. Healer Adazzra, having sworn to help anyone regardless of his affiliations, takes care to see Feodor back to health, much to Moonrazer's protest. The situation is further complicated when prophecies espoused by Arwhyrrl elders indicate that not only are Feodor and Adazzra to be lifebonded, but are destined to stop the Vlaad race and bring peace to both worlds.

ATTACK OF THE QUEEN offers for the fan of fantasy an exciting story of self-preservation underscored by a spiritual theme; expository scenes involving Adazzra's and Moonrazer's meeting, presented early in the story, tend to slow the progression of the story but it is well worth staying with the book as secrets of the Vlaad race are eventually revealed. The romance of Feodor and Adazzra, to author Cummings's credit, does not overpower the action yet enhances the story enough to leave fantasy romance fans satisfied. One can detect some Christian inspiration in the story; subtle, and not preachy, a good read for lovers of the genre.

Roman: Unparalled Outrage by John William McMullen
1stBooks, 1410714608, $14.50

In this current time of abuse scandals involving Catholic priests, it might not occur to some that accusations toward men of the cloth are not a recent development. The 1846 case of Father Roman Weinzoepfel illustrates this point, and Roman: Unparalled Outrage offers fictional account of the events of this young priest's tragic life.

Though the Catholic population of the American midwest was small, the need for a community's spiritual guidance outweighed the necessity of some priests' complete training. Thus, Father Weinzoepfel's installation as pastor of a small Catholic church in Evansville, Indiana was expedited, and this Alsatian found himself quickly having to adjust to pre-Civil War America in a time when immigrants (particularly the Irish and Germanic Catholics) were looked upon with suspicion. It is a discrimination Father Weinzoepfel feels immediately among various merchants (a scene depicting the newspaper editor's determination that a Catholic festival is not newsworthy sticks out).

Nonetheless, the priest finds acceptance among his own flock, and comes to be acquainted with the Long family, to whom Father administers the dying matriarch Last Rites. The father, Louis, appears to be devout yet is an overbearing patriarch, particularly when it comes to his wayward daughter, Anna. When Anna shocks the family by marrying outside the Faith, the priest tries to make the situation bearable by ensuring the future Catholicity of Anna's children. However, it is Anna who makes the situation unbearable for Father Weinzoepfel when she, distraught that he has refused her advances, accuses him of rape. Unparalled Outrage takes the reader through a fictional account of the trial, the ensuing anti-Catholic sentiment that plagued the town, and Father Weinzoepfel's fate, the outcome of which might have differed had he given in to the temptation to break the seal of the confessional.

Author McMullen offers with Roman: Unparalled Outrage an interesting historical perspective on religious intolerance in early America, a timely read despite its setting. Long, awkward stretches in the narrative, coupled with constant shifting of time (as much of Roman's story is told in flashback), however, interrupt the otherwise smooth
flow of the story.

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Attack of the Queen
Awake, O Sleeper
Blessed Miguel Pro
Buttercups for Jesus
A Canticle for Leibowitz
Catholicism and Fundamentalism
A Child of the King
The Choice
The Deadly Habit
Death's a Beach
Death of an Angel
Dream of Fire
Fabric of Faith
Father's Touch
Forbidden Grief
From Dust and Ashes
Gabriel's Magic Ornament
Healing the Breach
Heaven's Blue
Jonah Christopher and the Last Mass
Joseph and Mary
The Last Fisherman
Listening With My Heart
Living Sacrifices
The Lord Had Something Better in Mind
The Mask of Ollock
More Than a Garden
My Name is Mary
My Treasury of Chaplets
Niamh and the Hermit
The Night the Penningtons Vanished
On the Road to Happiness
The Passionate Steward
A Philadelphia Catholic in King James's Court
The Powder Monkey
Praying in the Presence of Our Lord
Roman: Unparalled Outrage
Saints of the Jubilee
Saving Death
Sea of Hope
A Season For Love
Seed of the Dogwood Tree
Self-Inflicted Hunting Arguments
The Spider in the Well
The Suffering Servant's Courage
There We Stood, Here We Stand
Through the Storm
Total Depravity and Free Will
The Trapping
Unicorn in the Sanctuary
The Valley of Childhood
The View from the Grass Roots
A Vow of Sanctity
We Met Online!

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