The Haunted Cathedral, Harwood Mysteries Book 2

The Haunted Cathedral by Antony Barone Kolenc on Amazon

Meet Xan, a boy in twelfth-century England who has a knack for solving puzzles. In the first book, Shadow in the Dark he had to solve the puzzle of his identity when he awoke with amnesia in Harwood Abbey. His village burned to the ground, his parents disappeared, and Xan had to forge a new life with the monks while evading the bandits who destroyed his village.

In Book 2, Xan travels from the abbey to Lincoln with Brother Andrew, two guards, and the bandit Carlo. Seeking justice for his parents, Xan struggles with forgiving Carlo before the bandit’s probable death sentence. How could anyone possibly forgive a murderer? And can Xan find his uncle in Lincoln, who might accept Xan as a son and pay the head money to the lord of Hardonbury Manor so Xan can be free of his serfdom?

Travel to the big city is fraught with peril on the road, and danger upon danger awaits in Lincoln. Fortunately, Xan’s good friend Lucy is also in town to help him solve another puzzle.  His Uncle William seems to be in trouble. Might the ghost haunting Lincoln Cathedral have something to do with it? Strange things are heard at night, along with flickering lights, scratching sounds, and tremors shaking the whole building.

In the midst of his adventures, Xan wrestles with teenage feelings of grief, rage, remorse, and much more. Will he be able to live with his uncle and learn a new trade, or will he return to the abbey to study with Brother Andrew? This book has an exciting climax full of treasure and traps that reminded me of the film, National Treasure. It is a great book to give students for Halloween, spooky but not gory. It would also be excellent for Lent, with the overarching theme of forgiveness. Recommended for ages 9 and up, if they are strong readers. This is a really well-written medieval mystery.   

A Storyteller’s Guide to a Grace-Filled Life

A Storyteller’s Guide to a Grace-Filled Life by Tony Agnesi on Amazon

Tony Agnesi’s 70-plus stories and reflections from his Italian Catholic upbringing are the kind of gift that just keeps giving. In this month of St. Valentine, I wanted to recommend this delightful book as a present from the heart. It is perfect for grandparents to give their children and grandchildren, and vice versa: a learned but light tome for any older person who needs a reminder that they are loved.   

Agnesi is a wonderful storyteller. His words flow effortlessly off the page, radiating empathy and connection, and imparting wisdom in a fun way.  Each tale is a brief two to three pages. From The Lone Ranger to the power of forgiveness, Agnesi covers it all with aplomb and a call to live your best life, walking with Jesus.

I read this over the course of a year in the few minutes each day away from my toddlers, and I’m recommending it for Valentine’s Day, or an early start to Christmas shopping for next year.

In light of Covid, I’m sure we all know someone in a nursing home or hospice, or simply in the hospital who could use a daily dose of encouragement. The Bible verses in each of Agnesi’s stories are well-chosen, and the chapters are divided into sections based on different graces: God’s grace in the family, the virtues, at the holidays, in daily life, and in prayer. It doesn’t get much better than that. Oh wait, it does! Agnesi just released book 2.  Grazie!

Hope Eternal

Hope Eternal by Rebecca Lynn on Amazon

This is one of the few books that I would ever list as a MUST read, as in “You must read this right now. Drop what you are doing. Order it. Pronto.” It is a difficult journey story to be sure; the work of a mom with her 13-year-old son who has cancer is never going to be an easy read.  One of my own dear friends died this month, and as I ponder all the ramifications of death, I find it necessary to recommend Hope Eternal to everyone.

Rebecca tells us the story of her son, Kyle, who was diagnosed with DSRCT cancer. This is the worst news that any parent can hear, and she recounts the days, weeks, and sometimes even minutes of struggle with all of the various treatments that Kyle received.  In between, both Rebecca and Kyle grow enormously in their faith, always believing that “God has a plan, and He is in control.” 

Raw power is enormously riveting, even when it is acquired at such a high cost, and Kyle was a powerful force for love in this world. Rebecca recounts all of the nurses they met, the doctors, the specialists, and the people with hospice, and all of them were touched by Kyle’s smile, determination, and inner peace even while he was so ill and dying. Kyle was also very, very funny and he brought his own family to a better understanding of the nature of life and death through humor.

I was privileged to know his older sister, Heather. She and I were born on the same day in the same hospital, and attended the same high school. As I got to know her better later in life, I can say that Heather loved her little brother Kyle fiercely, and spent most of her life wrestling with God, who took Kyle way too soon. I was impressed with the story even before I got to read the book about his life, and it is my gift to grieving families to recommend Hope Eternal as a type of catharsis.

Rebecca is a talented storyteller, and though her book was not professionally edited, it is immensely readable and relatable. I understand the need to get the words down, and into people’s hands as though the Holy Spirit himself was waiting for you to hurry up and get it done. Her journals during her time at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan helped Rebecca remember this journey with Kyle and with God. Refreshingly self-effacing and honest in her assessment of her actions and those of the other people who tried to help Kyle, Rebecca notes that her son’s “final days’ goal was to bring the glory of the Lord to all who could hear and witness his love for Jesus.” 

I love reading about miracles that happen during, and after someone’s death, and this book does not disappoint. That this cancer happened to a family from my hometown is astonishing and heart-rending, awful and wonderful in that Kyle’s message of hope can live on in the words of his mother, who loved and loves him with all of her heart.