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Delightful Inspirational Reading for the Holidays & Beyond

I love to read! But these days I tend to engross myself in nonfiction books, mostly related to Catholicism, theology and religion. Sometimes, though, my brain needs a break from all the heavy stuff with a light and pleasant read. The holidays can be a perfect time for this type of reading if the rest of life is already overwhelming your brain.

I’ve got two new books to recommend that are just perfect for grabbing a soft blanket, curling up on a rainy or snowy day and jumping into the beautiful simplicity of these stories. These are books you won’t want to put down.

Five Years in Heaven by John Schlimm a reviewFive Years in Heaven: The Unlikely Friendship That Answered Life’s Greatest Questions by John Schlimm (Image Books, 2015)

“Five Years in Heaven” is a memoir of a young professional’s relationship with a 90+-year-old nun in Pennsylvania. Schlimm shares how he met Sister Augustine, who runs a ceramics shop at a 150-year-old convent where he lived, and began a five-year dialogue with her that led him to sort out God’s direction for his life, learning valuable lessons along the way.

As St. Teresa of Avila says, “God is in the pots and pans,” so He is in this simple story. While I am no artist and know nothing about ceramics, I absolutely delighted in the descriptions of how Sister Augustine created these little works of art that ended up bringing so much joy to so many. From her fingers molding the clay to firing them in the kiln to her gentle strokes of paint, God is in the details here. I could have read on and on about the beauty that came from her creations and from her gift of self to this young man.

It’s truly a delight and covers several Christmas seasons, making it a lovely Advent treat.

The Abbey by James MartinThe Abbey: A Story of Discovery by James Martin, SJ (Harper One, 2015)

The Abbey is a fiction tale that came to Martin in a dream. Martin is a Jesuit priest and New York Times bestselling author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage and The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, as well as editor at large of America magazine.

I love anything about a convent or monastery, as I’m fascinated with how they live their days focused on prayer and work — and all the difficulties that must come with living in community. This story follows the intersection of the lives of three people — a single man, a divorced mother whose son died as a teenager and the abbot of a monastery, also in Pennsylvania.

This is a wonderful story of love, loss and finding one’s place in religion lived out in three very different ways. I think we can all find ourselves in one of these characters, relating to their struggles and their attempts to find peace in life. I finished this book in a matter of days and found myself anxious to know what happens to these characters next. It’s always the mark of a good book when you are sad for it to end :).

The Abbey reminds me of the Mitford Series by Jan Karon, which followed the simple lives of an Episcopal rector in small town North Carolina. Enjoyable, easy, inspirational reading.

Read a sample of “The Abbey”

Get your Christmas reading in order now so when you need a break from the busy-ness, you’ll have handy a copy of one of these works to put yourself in another place and time.

Note: I received a copy of “Five Years in Heaven” from Blogging for Books and a copy of “The Abbey” from HarperOne for this review.

Matthew Kelly’s Latest Book Only $1 for Parishes

Matthew Kelly’s book Rediscover Catholicism was key in my conversion. It was the first thing I’d come across that helped me make sense of Catholicism and understand its place in our modern day society.

Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly

His latest book, “Rediscover Jesus” is a gem, as well, and amazingly, his company, Dynamic Catholic, is offering it for a limited time at the cost of just $1 (plus $.50 cents shipping) to parishes who order at least 500.

“Rediscover Jesus” takes a look at Jesus’ life and teachings specifically and helps us incorporate them into our everyday life. The book also strives to help us develop a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus, something that is key to true conversion (see my blog on Ways to Grow Closer to Jesus). It’s incredibly conversational and easy to read and broken into small chapters designed to be read daily. My copy is well highlighted and dog eared! Watch a short video from Kelly about the book below:

“Matthew has a way of describing the faith that is so simple and profound,” says Patrick Lencioni, author and founder of The Table Group. “Give Rediscover Jesus to those who are struggling in their faith, those who are growing deeply and anyone in between. It is readable, actionable and inspiring. It will become a classic.”

Why offer it to parishes? Kelly aims to re-energize Catholics who have fallen away from the church or who may be coming to mass in body only, with their soul still unconverted. He encourages parishes to give away these books at holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, when many who still identify as Catholics show up for a once-a-year mass.

“Thirty-two percent of people at Christmas Mass only come to Church once a year,” says Kelly. “Christmas is our biggest opportunity to re-engage those people. Sometimes all it takes to bring people back to the Church is the right book at the right time. ‘Rediscover Jesus’ is that book.”

If your parish is interested in purchasing the books to hand out to parishioners, visit or call 859-980-7900. They are available while supplies last.

You can find Kelly’s other books, along with many other great Catholic reads from theology to modern writings, on his website at Most are FREE with just the cost of shipping. I highly recommend putting in an order right now for “Rediscover Catholicism” if you haven’t read that one yet. May it inspire you as much as it did me!

Catholicism through a Convert’s Eyes: Win 2 FREE Catholic Books!

Journeys Home book giveaway through 7/20/15 via @ACatholicNewbieAs days pass and we become comfortable in our Catholicism and the sacraments begin to feel more like a routine and Catholic conversion storiesless like an encounter with the living God, it’s time to shake ourselves out of that lukewarm sleep and remember WHY we are Catholic.

As a convert myself, I find it often helps to view your faith anew through the eyes of a convert, someone who as an adult actively CHOSE Catholicism because they fell in love with it. Some who choose it despite knowing they were leaving a career, friends or family behind because they knew they had found the fullness of God’s truth in our faith.

Journeys Home and Journeys Home 2 edited by Marcus Grodi, founding president of Coming Home Network International, is a wake-up call to the joys of our faith. These books compile the conversion stories of men and women — priests, religious and lay people. They serve as a joyful wake-up call to the beauty of Catholicism and Jesus’ call to all of us to return home to Rome.

Catholic conversion storiesI love nothing better than a good conversion story! I love to dissect exactly what drew a person to the Church, where it happened and why. What was their thought process? These stories do a great job explaining all of this and give great logical understanding, paired with faith, of why Catholicism is the one true Church, calling people from all faiths back to the church Jesus founded 2000 years ago.

You’ll enter the mind of Southern Baptists, Anglicans, Evangelical Pentecostals and Muslims to explore what drew them to Catholicism. Some more recognizable converts who share their stories in the books include:

Thanks to, I am able to gift two lucky winners each with volumes 1 and 2 of Journeys Home to inspire you on journey and re-awaken in you Catholicism’s call. Simply enter the contest by completing as many of the tasks below as you desire. The more you enter, the better your chance to win! I will announce the winner on Monday, July 20.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Perfect Book for July 4th: The American Catholic Almanac

American Catholic AlmanacWhen learning about Church history and the saints, sometimes we forget that our own country has its own lofty Catholic history. While it may not date back hundreds or thousands of years, there are some amazing people and events that have taken place right here in the United States.

This July 4th is a great time to pick up the American Catholic Almanac from Image Catholic Books, which provides 365 days of inspirational stories of Catholics who have shaped America. Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson have put together an interesting Almanac to educate you about the church in your own country. Their goals were to tell the stories of the men and women who built the Catholic Church in America and show how much America has benefited from their efforts.

As you read these great stories of miracles and unwavering perseverance, the authors suggest you consider how their evangelization techniques might be used today. How can we model what these American saints accomplished and the virtues they displayed in modern times?

They note, “Perhaps, because so few of America’s first Catholics have the title ‘Saint’ before their name, we often forget that clouds of witnesses have lived on our shores.”

Did you know:

  • Jack Kerouac died wanting to be known as a Catholic and not only as a beat poet?
  • Andrew Jackson credited America’s victory in the Battle of New Orleans to the prayers of the Virgin Mary and the Ursuline Sisters?
  • Al Capone’s tombstone reads “My Jesus Mercy”

Fascinating stuff! Plus, it’s an easy read, as the book is laid out by date from January 1-December 31. Simply start on the day you pick up the book (why not July 4!), and read a story each day.

Celebrate the efforts of these Catholics and honor our own amazing country this July 4th by learning how our country was formed in the faith with The American Catholic Almanac.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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