The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch, by T.M. Gaouette

 

 The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch by [Gaouette, T. M.]

At age ten, Benedict carries massive chips on both shoulders. Having passed from bad foster homes to worse, he dreads the uncertainty of new surroundings and new rules. When he arrives at The Sunshine Ranch, he doubts the sincerity of his new foster parents, David and Martha Credence and withholds his affections lest he is ripped again from friends and security. Benedict sees the other foster children as rivals and doubts that his good fortune will last. Over the next four years, he remains aloof, not daring to trust that he has found a home and family.

When foreclosure threatens The Sunshine Ranch, Benedict’s doubts seem to be confirmed. Although David and Martha ask Benedict and their other foster kids to have faith that God will provide, Benedict refuses to believe. But Micah, Benedict’s roommate, and chief rival keeps the faith. Eventually, Benedict realizes that The Sunshine Ranch gives him the only happiness that he has ever known, and that his constant worry and fear prevent him from enjoying it.

David and Martha Credence and their many foster children embody generosity and unquestioning faith. Theirs is an impossible task — they welcome hard-case kids like Benedict and scrape together the resources to meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Benedict, on the other hand, provides a counterpoint to everything the Credence family attempts to share. Too wounded by his early life experiences to accept the healing they offer, he’s likely to reject them and run away into the night. Micah, the optimist, has suffered as much as Benedict, but he always sees the bright side and attempts to wear down Benedict’s rough edges.

The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch appealed to every emotion: there are joy and sadness, richness and loss. T.M. Gaouette delivers a powerful story with an emotional wallop, filling her pages with surprises and suspense, mystery and romance, pain and growth. Unquestionably, this novel is a page turner.

I would recommend this book for family reading. Biological progeny and foster children, biological and foster parents can see themselves somewhere in the pages of this book. It will especially benefit students preparing for careers in social services. I enjoyed reading this story because its characters deeply touched me. I pray that many couples will follow the example of David and Martha Credence and provide a loving home for foster children.

Rejoice! Gospel Meditations, by Louis Evely

Lent invites us to refresh our souls, to refocus our lives, to set things right. Rejoice! by Louis Evely, has a way of growing us out of our comfort zones into the light. It challenges us to lift our crosses and follow Jesus. Evely writes: “There were times when Jesus was frightening in his logic, frightening in his relentlessness. He went beyond what was said of him; beyond the half-measures at which the Law had reasonably stopped. Jesus allowed nothing to stop him. He knows only one law: love. And from that law, he draws consequences with logic, which must either electrify or repel his followers.”

Consider the tax collectors and harlots who flocked to the desert to see St. John the Baptist. They asked John, “What must we do?” To their surprise, John told them, “If anyone has two tunics he must share with the man who has none, and the one with something to eat must do the same.” Luke 3:11.  To approach God who we cannot see; we must first approach our neighbors, especially those in need. The message of John and later Jesus electrified their followers. Imagine the joy among the penitents at finding the path to forgiveness and love. Imagine the community that benefits from their joyful giving.

Consider the Pharisees. Why instead of the Pharisees, did the likes of Matthew, Zacchaeus, other tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes flock to Jesus? Unlike the Sadducees, the Pharisees believed in the resurrection and angels. They maintained their zeal for the Law and awaited the Messiah. “They should have been Jesus’ staunchest supporters.” On the contrary, many of them joined in the call for Jesus’ death. Evely explains that “The Pharisees were proud of their faith, their knowledge, their good works, and their religious observances. Therefore they were closed to God’s gifts and God’s forgiveness, for they did not believe that they were in need of either.” They believed that they had saved themselves through their rigorous observance of the Law. In their assumption of righteousness, they not only rejected God’s mercy, but they refused to extend mercy toward the unrighteous. Imagine their frustration when Jesus said that they had to change their whole approach to God and that their earlier efforts may have placed them behind the hated tax-collectors on the path to God. The message of Jesus repelled them.

Evely used the Parable of The Prodigal Son to compare the Pharisees to the tax collectors and sinners. The older son keeps the Law, but he does so, resentfully. The prodigal, like the tax collectors, rejects the discipline of the Law, but at least he realizes his sinfulness. He is willing to confess to his father and beg a place among his servants. The father, like God the Father is something of a prodigal in his mercy toward the younger son. God squanders love on sinners and reproves the cold-hearted legalists. God’s ways are not our ways.

Evely observes, “It is one of the paradoxes of human nature that we often find more generosity, compassion, and willingness to serve among libertines and loose women than among our moral rigorists.” To underscore his claim, he cites the Parable of the Vineyard Workers. Those who endured the heat of the day received the same pay as those who worked only one hour. Evely writes that those who worked longer should have rejoiced at the good fortune of the last to arrive. The day-long workers grumbled at their fair wage, but Jesus made the point that the vineyard owner was free to do with his money as he wished, despite how it appeared to the workers. God’s ways are not our ways.

If we proclaim Jesus in our liturgy, we must live according to His teachings by radiating God’s love. “God is no more and no less visible than love itself,” Evely writes. “Other men see it and know that the Spirit of God is present. In the early church, only men ‘filled with the spirit’ were chosen for important missions. And the pagans said of the first Christians, ‘See how they love one another!’ The love of these Christians was such that, through it God Himself was made visible.” The lives of the early Christians proclaimed the Law of Love. In loving, they won the culture war against their pagan environment. Why today, have so many churches closed or serve only the elderly? Why today, do some Catholics fear the lure of the secular culture? Shouldn’t they be more concerned about cold-hearted Church members who lack the compelling love that denoted the early Christians and attracted new Christians?

Wishing you an invigorating Lent, one that brings rejoicing.

Louis Evely also wrote a collection of meditations focused on the Easter-Pentecost season: Joy: Meditations on the Joyful Heritage of Christianity.

Fight for Liberty, by Theresa Linden

 

Fight for Liberty, Book Three in the Liberty trilogy, climbs to a dazzling climax, filled with plot shifts that will tantalize adult, juvenile and young adult readers.

In Book One, Chasing Liberty, an inner voice she calls “My Friend” directs nineteen-year-old Liberty 554-062466-84 of Aldonia to the realization that there is more to existence than a life totally dominated by the Regimen Custodia Terra. With the assistance of Dedrick, a member of the Mosheh, the underground insurgent leadership, she escapes to a remote sylvan colony but not to a life of contentment, as she knows her friends remain trapped in Aldonia.

In Book Two, Testing Liberty, the heroine infiltrates back into Aldonia to rescue her friends and imprisoned colony members, including all of their children, and to undermine the Regimen. She is captured and subjected to Reeducation, a form of video-game brainwashing. Like MacGyver, Liberty becomes more dangerous to the Regimen in captivity than on the loose.

In Fight for Liberty, the now tougher, more accomplished heroine comes into her own as a role model, especially for girls and women, following that inner voice calling them to greatness:

My Friend had never spoken to me as directly as he had these past several weeks. Since Reeducation, He led me to believe I would be instrumental in changing Aldonia, gave me hope that freedom would win out against the all-controlling government, the Regimen Custodia Terra. They controlled every facet of life from population numbers and education to ideologies and individual vocations. Considering all life of equal value, regardless of species, but humans akin to parasites, they had corralled people into cities and forbade entry into the Fully Protected Nature Preserves. We needed to bring them down.

The final push against the Regimen Custodia Terra begins, but instead of an orderly, focused attack against Aldonia, within its electrified fence Liberty, the remnant of the colonists from the Nature Preserves, and their superiors in the Mosheh face a tangle of conflicts.

Liberty’s love interest, Dedrick, doesn’t want her to commit to the Mosheh or participate in the upcoming attacks. The Torva, wild men—a cross between an outlaw biker gang and a Viking raiding party—will join the fray, but they won’t take orders from the Mosheh. They are more interested in owning the young women in the Regimen’s “breeding facility” than in freeing the people of Aldonia.

Previously captured colonial children have escaped from Regimen schools, but they have come under the influence of Guy, a one-armed shadow figure who will follow his own, separate agenda during the upcoming conflict.

Mosheh infiltrators of the Unity Troopers, the army of the Regimen, have found Trooper membership attractive. Silver, the mercenary, has tracked Derek into the Mosheh’s tunnel network. The Regimen would reward her for sharing this information. As dangerous as ever, Dr. Supero has become unpredictable after the treatment of his brain tumor. As the Mosheh subterfuge and subversion begins, no one is sure that their alliance will hold or that the good guys have accounted for all of the Regimen’s resources.

In Fight for Liberty, Theresa Linden has penned her most dramatic and suspenseful dystopian novel yet. The ending is anything but predictable. Although she resolves the many story lines at the end, the reader’s attachment to the characters sparks a hope that a sequel waits in the wings.

It is not necessary to read the series in order, but Liberty fans might prefer to watch the action build to a climax through the earlier volumes.

 

 

 

Life-Changing Love, by Theresa Linden

Theresa Linden weaves three story lines throughout this second volume of her West Brothers trilogy. At the conclusion of volume one—Roland West, Loner—Roland finds a measure of happiness with his new friends, especially Caitlyn. He and she enjoy hanging out without the pressures of a “relationship.” When Roland tells Caitlyn that he’s not ready to be her boyfriend, Caitlyn thinks that his feelings for her have cooled. Can Ronald and Caitlyn find what they have lost?

Caitlyn’s friend, Zoe, the most popular girl at school, begins to show Caitlyn “how to become popular.” To demonstrate, Zoe attracts the attention of Jarret, Roland’s brother. She sees Jarret as handsome, confident and hot.  The real Jarret lives to dominate and control everyone in his life. Can Zoe find happiness with Jarret or has she stepped into emotional quicksand?

Because Jarret had made Roland’s life miserable, as a punishment, their father takes Jarret’s twin, Keefe, to Italy, instead of his other sons. Once out of Jarret’s reach, Keefe’s worldview amplifies. Can Keefe become his own person and find life-changing love?

Of all of Theresa Linden’s characters, Jarret West represents the ultimate Machiavellian as he schemes to bend the lives of Roland, Caitlyn, Keefe and especially Zoe so that he gets what he wants, regardless of the cost or damage. Jarret is an “evil genius” with an innate ability to interpret behaviors and engineer emotional responses that favor his devious ploys. Can love change the direction of Jarret’s life?

Caitlyn shows tremendous depth and strength, especially when Jarret attempts to manipulate and embarrass her. She comes to know her parents and the reasons for their concerns and the limitations they place on her.

Readers of volume one will welcome the return of Peter and Toby, the clear-sighted brothers who have Jarret’s number and give him all the grief they can.

As usual, Theresa Linden’s lively plots and palpable characters make for a compelling read. She shows imagination, intrigue, and originality in yet another novel. Volume three is on the way.

Lazarus of Bethany: A Novel, By E. Ann McIntyre

Fictionalized representations of biblical characters often miss the mark. Nevertheless, the Bible serves as a vast treasury of plots and characters, including intriguing hints of narratives read between the lines. One of the most fascinating but little-known characters in the New Testament is Lazarus of Bethany—The Friend of the Lord.

The scriptures do not tell us how Jesus of Nazareth became a friend of Lazarus and his sisters, Martha, and Mary who lived on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Ann McIntyre’s novel offers an imaginative but scripturally consistent backstory that links Jesus and Lazarus from their teen years through the passion and death of Jesus and beyond. The author builds on the scriptural foundation with material gathered outside of the scriptures that support the notion that Lazarus, although at first reluctant, served as an apostle of Christianity.

The author explains:

Outside the Gospels, there are stories that Lazarus lived in Kiton [now Laranca] Cyprus, and that he was named its first Bishop by St. Paul and St. Barnabas. The Church of St. Lazarus is there and is said to house his second grave. Other stories have the Bethany siblings living their mission in southern France. They miraculously arrived there after a forced journey by boat. There are a number of churches built there in their honor, including another burial site for Lazarus.  The Gospel does not tell us what happened to Lazarus after Jesus brought him back to life. We have no idea how the miracle affected Lazarus. He remains a silent witness to his friend who loved him. This story is a fictional offering about Lazarus of Bethany and his relationship with Jesus of Nazareth. It is a story about two boys who lived in an occupied state, in a troubled land, and grew into manhood together.  It is a story of two men, two deaths, two resurrections, and the enemies of the truth who sought to destroy them both. It is a story of doubt, and the journey to faith, of fear, and the journey to courage, of bitterness and the journey to forgiveness.  

The author addresses other poorly explained issues in the Gospels such as the relationship between Jesus and his brothers and sisters, the family connection to Zebedee the fisherman and his sons James and John, and the unusual link between the early Christian community and Pontius Pilate.

Although a compelling work of historical fiction, Lazarus of Bethany offers an inspirational message. It shows Lazarus, Martha, and Mary as close personal friends to Jesus. Lazarus, a priest in the Temple of Jerusalem, experiences conflict as Jesus gradually reveals that God is his father. Lazarus, of all people, had an early exposure to Jesus as a dear friend and extraordinary person, but Lazarus resisted Jesus and only reluctantly became a disciple. Martha and Mary knew that Jesus had the power to heal and raise the dead. When Lazarus died, they blamed Jesus. Their reaction resembles that of so many who lose a close relative or friend, especially when prayers had been offered to save that person’s life. Mary’s passionate washing of the feet of Jesus represents the fervent love that many devoted Christians offer to God.

On two counts, the cleverness of the novel and the spiritual benefits of the Lazarus story make Lazarus of Bethany a rewarding read, especially during Lent and the Easter season.

Louis Everly reminds us in Joy: Meditations on the Joyful Heritage of Christianity, his inspirational book on the Easter season that Catholics dutifully sacrifice throughout the fifty days of Lent but forget to celebrate the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost. They pray the Stations of the Cross but neglect the Stations of Joy. There’s no better guide to both the Lenten and Easter events than Lazarus of Bethany, a childhood friend of Jesus.

An Interview with Theresa Linden, Author of Roland West, Loner

 

https://web.mail.comcast.net/service/home/~/?auth=co&loc=en_US&id=624964&part=2

A few questions for Theresa Linden:

  1. In Roland West, Loner and several of your other books, I’ve noticed that you have developed a palate of rich characters. I’m curious as to where you come up with these ideas and how long have you been writing fiction.

 

Ideas for story lines and characters come to me from life, books, TV shows, and my imagination. My father was in the Coast Guard so we moved every few years. I’ve lived in California, Guam, Oahu, and Arizona. I’ve experienced different cultures and situations, like surviving Typhoon Pamela on Guam and seeing the sights in Hawaii. The constant change gave me the impression that life was an adventure. I’m sure it’s the same with all writers; you store up details from people you meet and places you go. And your imagination takes you farther.

I started writing in grade school with my sister. We stole characters from TV shows and movies and wrote them into adventure stories. We took turns writing chapters, ending with a cliffhanger that the other one had to write their way out of. We stopped writing together sometime in high school. At that time my father retired here in Ohio. Having lived in California, Guam, and Hawaii, I found it hard to adjust to the cold. Life got hard, and the adventure seemed to end.

At some point in my adult life, I realized how I could reclaim the adventure. I had to write! I loved my Catholic faith, so I wanted to write fun faith-filled stories for teens. Roland West, Loner was actually the first full story I wrote. That was years ago, and it’s seen many changes, including the title. The final book is much different from the original, but I hope it accomplishes my original goal: to bring to life a little of the richness, depth, and mystery of the Catholic faith and to arouse the imagination to the invisible realities and the power of faith and grace.

 

  1. In Roland West, Loner Roland’s older twin brothers create a lot of conflict in this story. However, for being twins, they are nothing alike. How do you think a pair of identical twins can produce two totally different personalities?

 

I’ve always been fascinated by twins. They share a bond that is unique in sibling relationships. Identical twins have a pair of exactly the same genes, and they often have a similar upbringing, nurturing, and life experiences. So it might be natural to assume that they share personality traits. This, however, is not always the case. Even in situations where identical twins have been treated as two versions of one person, their distinct personalities emerge. This especially becomes obvious in teenage years when a person has more freedom to choose what to wear or to eat, and what to do with their time.

I think the phenomena brings to light the uniqueness of the individual that God has created. We are more than our genes and appearances. Each of us is a unique child of God. Our points of view and motivations, our choices and ways of responding to the good and bad in life are our own.

In Roland West, Loner, Jarret and Keefe are identical twins yet their personalities are vastly different. Jarret has grown into a leader, Keefe the follower. Keefe has developed a sense of right and wrong while Jarret tends to think selfishly. Their personalities complement each other to a degree. They know what the other thinks in a situation, and they rely on each other. But they both have room to grow.

 

  1. Not to give anything away, but one character seems particularly mean. What do you believe makes a person into a bully?

 

I am certainly no expert in what causes behaviors, good or bad, in a person. But a writer should do their research so they can present reasonable situations and believable characters. I think several underlying causes could result in creating a bully or a “control freak.” Perhaps a person had a difficult childhood with a controlling parent, or they experienced a deep hurt in the past that led to feelings of helplessness. Maybe they had unmet needs as a child or didn’t get the attention they wanted and so seek now make life revolve around them.

Each of the West boys experienced a significant loss in their life, during their childhood, and they’ve each handled it in their own way. This loss and their coping methods form a big part of who they are and what hurdles they need to overcome to grow in God’s grace. Mr. West has also been affected by the loss, as future stories in this series will reveal. While sufferings and tragedy affect everyone, the good news is, God can turn the loss into something wonderful if we let Him.

 

  1. This story begins early in the school year. The West boys, who have previously been tutored, must now attend public school. What are your thoughts about public education vs. home schooling and tutoring?

 

Growing up, we moved a lot, so I attended various public and Catholic schools, but I always wished we were home schooled. As a child, I wanted to remain close to home, but I learned to enjoy being with children my age at school. As a pre-teen and teen, I faced bullying, peer pressure, and other issues not related to learning. It is certainly not the case for everyone, but my education suffered because of it.

 

As a mother, I love home schooling my three boys. They get to learn in a safe and comfortable environment. Yes, we sometimes keep our pajamas on all day! They also receive a full education imbued with Christian values. The teaching of the faith isn’t isolated to a particular day. It’s weaved throughout the curriculum and taught in daily life. The boys can learn at their own pace without pressure. And I get to relearn all those things I’ve forgotten from school.

If you were to ask the West boys this question, they would each give a different answer. Jarret loves attending school. He’s extremely social and confident, so this is an opportunity to make friends and feed his ego. Keefe notices the work is easier. He’s been working at his own pace all these years, so he’s a lot farther ahead than the average 10th grader. But to Roland . . . “Every day at River Run High pushed him farther into the nightmare. He had no friends. He heard his name all the time, but not from kids wanting to talk to him. They were talking about him.” No, Roland does not like public school. And I’m sure he represents a group of students that just don’t feel like they’ll ever fit in.

  1. In this story, Peter often finds the behavior of his younger autistic brother a trial. What are the benefits and challenges of autism or Asperger’s Syndrome in a child?

 

I mentioned that life has felt like an adventure. Having a son with autism has become a big part of this adventure. Unable to have children, we adopted and now have three boys (all teenagers now). We felt called to adopt special needs children but had no idea our first baby had autism. We knew something was wrong because he always seemed uncomfortable.

Most parents of special needs children can relate to our story. We raced from one specialist to the next, researched everything we could, tried diets and supplements and various therapies. And some of these things helped. Most didn’t.

The hardest part has been the self-doubt, loneliness, and feelings of failure. Other moms gave me advice, but nothing seemed to help. As a new mom, I often felt like I wasn’t doing it right, and that maybe I wasn’t cut out for motherhood. But after a while, I stopped listening to the “baby advice” and worked on trusting God with this challenge. It was then that I learned to relax and enjoy our son for who he was without expecting him to act like others. I’ve come to accept that he will always have autism—unless God wants to change that via miracle—but it’s okay. While I continue to encourage behavior that will help him in life, I no longer worry about squelching all of his unique behaviors and personality quirks. They are a wonderful part of him.

It is easy for parents of special needs children to feel alone in their journey as they try to address the unique needs of their child. But God has chosen us to be their parents. He trusts us to raise these children to know, love and serve Him in their unique way. As soon as my son could walk, he wouldn’t sit still in church until the Eucharistic payers. Then he wanted to stand on the pews and watch. I let him, even when his size and age made it seem unreasonable. He hasn’t always been able to hold his body still, but he’s always been drawn to the Mass. And now as a teenager, he is the proudest altar boy at our church. He would serve every Mass if he could. And he does a fantastic job. I know he makes Our Lord very happy. And isn’t that all we really want for our children?

 

  1. Since Roland West, Loner is the first in a series, what comes next for these characters?

 

The second book in this series picks up where this one leaves off. The focus shifts from Roland to Caitlyn. Caitlyn has a crush on someone, but her parents have just announced that they expect her to practice old-fashioned courtship! To make matters worse, she’s got competition from a cute, bubbly girl with no restrictions. We’ll still get to see what the West boys are up to, but I can’t tell you now or I’d spoil the surprise! I can tell you that the characters face questions every young person faces as they come of age. Who am I? Where am I headed? How am I going to get there? And what’s love got to do with it? Facets of Theology of the Body, especially that human love is an expression of the eternal love to which God calls us, come to life through the choices and discoveries of these teenage characters.

Feel free to ask questions about Roland West, Loner. While you’re composing a question, try your luck in a raffle for an autographed copy of the book. Click on LONER  or West and travel to the raffle site. Good luck.

Please enter the rafflecopter for your chance to win an autographed copy! Entry form on several of the blog stops.

Tuesday, Dec. 1        Don Mulcare: Peace to all who enter here!

Check out the author interview and the book cover wrap.

Wednesday, Dec. 2  Erin McCole Cupp: Faith, Fiction and Love No Matter What 

Top 10 Reasons You Will Love Catholic Teen Fiction

Amy J Cattapan, Author & Speaker, Stories with Heart & Hope 

Book Review of Roland West, Loner

Thursday, Dec. 3     Barb Grady Szyszkiewicz at CatholicMom.com

Book Review of Roland West, Loner

Friday, Dec. 4          Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur: Spiritual Woman

Book cover, blurb and review blurb

Saturday, Dec. 5      Cynthia Toney

Book cover, blurb and quote from book

Sunday, Dec. 6        Karl Bjorn Erickson, Author

Behind the Scenes and First Chapter

Monday, Dec. 7        Carolyn Astfalk, Relevant Fiction for Body & Soul

Character interview-you won’t want to miss this one!

 

A Soldier Surrenders, by Susan Peek

 cover sample 8 (2)   Susan Peek has introduced another of her friends in high places. Camillus de Lellis lived in the sixteenth century, a time of saints and turmoil. Nonetheless, his life and example relate especially well to our times. His résumé included life as a soldier, a veteran, a wounded warrior, a gambler, a drunk, a homeless person, a nurse/orderly, a hospital administrator, a founder of a religious order, and ultimately a saint.   With his father, a fellow mercenary, he chased armies, joined battles and spent his free time carousing and card-sharking. De Lellis sold his loyalty to the highest bidder, so his motivations weren’t always the most noble. After battles, he gambled and drank away his wages leaving him hungry, homeless, and reliant on his luck at cards.   A giant of a man, Camillus could have inspired today’s movie makers with his battlefield heroics. However, the real Camillus de Lellis stood in stark contrast to the current trends in action movies that present warriors as graceful, powerful, lethal, and photogenic, even after an hour of cinematic mayhem. The author provided a more honest representation of sword, musket, and hand-to-hand combat and its blood-splattered, weary and wretched participants.   Piety came later in the life of Camillus de Lellis and only after a series of false starts. Although he healed from his battle wounds, a mysterious and painful leg ailment dogged and humiliated him. It also disqualified Camillus from vocations that seemed well suited to his spiritual development. His temper and arrogance cost him jobs and sent him back into destructive behavior. Like the biblical Balaam, de Lellis finally saw the light with the help of an equine companion.   Susan Peek has written A Soldier Surrenders with love. She engages her audiences with the depiction of a man who shared many of our weaknesses, yet, despite his limitations, handicaps and bad choices, his example still encourages us to persevere in our pursuit of our calling to holiness. A Soldier Surrenders would serve as a sympathetic companion for us all, especially for those with lives shattered by war, chronic pain, homelessness, unemployment, or chemical dependency.