Friday, June 10, 2016

7QT: Seven Summer Sizzlers, Super Hot Catholic Books

Here are seven books you will definitely want to include in your summer reading this year:

1. The Four Keys to Everlasting Love by Karee and Manuel Santos -- Catholic Non-fiction 

In The Four Keys to Everlasting Love: How Your Catholic Marriage Can Bring You Joy for a Lifetime, Manuel (Manny) and Karee Santos share the secrets of securing a lifetime of authentic love and mutual joy in marriage. Karee Santos, a marriage columnist, and Dr. Manuel Santos, a psychiatrist who has been counseling couples for more than fifteen years, have teamed up to compose a comprehensive manual which enables couples to find a deep, lasting, and satisfying love through a sacramental marriage. "The Four Keys to Everlasting Love" was written for both engaged couples preparing for marriage as well as couples in all seasons of marriage.

Using real-life stories, biblical principles, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the teachings of St. John Paul II, the Santoses witness to the significance of a sacramental marriage. The Santoses effectively accomplish this by telling their own captivating story: how they overcame personality, culture, and religious differences; how they learned to put family first; how they coped with health crises that took a physical, emotional, and spiritual toll on them; and how they handled stressful holiday gatherings with extended family members. They reveal how they let go and let God transform them individually and as a couple to make their marriage stronger.

The Santoses define the four keys to a lasting marriage as: Faithful and Forgiving, Free, Fruitful, and Love Totally and Forever. They divide their book into four separate sections, based on these keys. Each section consists of three chapters which include: a quote from Scripture, or a papal document, a true story from the Santoses’ marriage or that of another couple, their recommendations and advice, conversation starters, action plans, and a quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church for reflection. Thus, the book is very easy to use in a group setting and is designed for both individual and group study.

As I read this fascinating book, I was struck by how little I knew going into my Catholic marriage nearly twenty-five years ago and what a valuable asset a resource guide like this would have been to me not only then, but in all the years in between. What I treasure most about The Four Keys to Everlasting Love is how the couple courageously shares their vulnerabilities: their own personal weakness and strengths, their marital conflicts, as well as their family struggles, and how they have worked together to resolve these problems. They offer both practical and spiritual solutions to marital problems.

One example of their marital trials that was especially challenging was that of unexpected illness. Carrie tells us that only nine months after their marriage, and five months after they conceived their first child, Manny was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The neurosurgeon told them it had to be removed immediately. Typically, couples don’t expect to experience health trial until their senior years, but it came much sooner than the Santoses had expected. How did they deal with it? They prayed fervently and asked others to pray for them. They stood by one another, putting their faith in God. The surgery was successful and, with Carrie nursing him during his convalescence, Manny recovered quickly. However, when the tumor returned, it created more concern and challenges. Yet this was not the end. Over time, Manny had four additional brain tumors, each one treated successfully. The couple naturally had fears and spiritual, physical, emotional challenges to deal with each time. They share the secrets of how their faith helped them overcome these fears and trials during these turbulent times.

In summary, The Four Keys to Everlasting Love: How Your Catholic Marriage Can Bring You Joy for a Lifetime presents a stunningly beautiful witness of how couples can encourage each other to grow in holiness within the marriage covenant and experience everlasting love and joy. I highly recommend it for all engaged and married couples.

1. Stay with Me by Carolyn Astfalk -- Catholic Fiction

When I decided to read and review Carolyn Astfalk’s novel Stay with Me, I had heard beforehand that it was really good. In my opinion, this inspirational Christian romance is better than good. It’s fantastic! It is filled with everything that makes a story appealing – romance, suspense, action, and humor. It is a fast-moving, extremely addictive book that you won’t want to put down. The characters are so real that I instantly felt connected to them and could easily relate to their life situations and empathize with their dilemmas.

Before I go any further, allow me to give you just a taste of what I am talking about. Twenty-four year-old Rebecca, raised in a strict, fundamentalist faith, finally moves out of her father’s home into an apartment of her own, away from her domineering father. She accidentally meets Chris, an attractive and congenial young man who asks her out on a date. As she gets to know Chris, a Catholic convert, she is attracted by his virtues, his strong morals, and the authentic way in which he lives his life. Chris loves Rebecca and her innocence, but must learn to deal with the emotional wounds she endures from her parents and an attempted assault during her adolescence. Father John, a young Catholic priest and mutual friend, advises them on the problems they face. Will these obstacles keep them apart or draw them together?

Astfalk’s novel Stay with Me is based on Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body and deals with a couple who are not perfect, but who are attempting to live out the theology of the body principles in their lives, despite their human frailties. To cut some of the tension, from time to time, the author focuses on Rebecca’s sister, Abby; an outspoken character who freely announces to the world whatever is on her mind. There are also predicaments that are humorous and still others that keep you on the edge of your seat. Stay with Me is one of the most entertaining and inspiring contemporary novels I have read. I wanted to keep reading after I turned the last page. I am definitely looking forward to reading the sequel.

2.  7 Secrets of Divine Mercy by Vinny Flynn -- This is a must read! 

My favorite book for this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy thus far is 7 Secrets of Divine Mercy by Vinny Flynn. Flynn is the author of other 7 Secrets books, (7 Secrets of the Eucharist and 7 Secrets of Confession), but I agree with him when he admits that this is the book he should have written first. It is a remarkable book that will open up your heart and your mind to the mysteries of Divine Mercy.  If you think you know just about all there is about Divine Mercy, you will be astounded to learn that there is so much more to know. Vinny Flynn is the perfect person to tell you about it. He has contemplated the mystery of Divine Mercy for thirty-five years and has worked with Divine Mercy experts Fr. Seraphim Michalenko and Fr. George Kosciki, to train many of the current speakers on this timely topic. He edited the official English version of the Diary of St. Faustina, and for twenty years has been singing the Chaplet of Divine Mercy with his family on EWTN.

Flynn is a dynamic educator who demonstrates his ability to dig into deep theological concepts and make them comprehensible to us in this astonishing account. Quoting Pope Francis, he tells us that devotion to divine mercy primarily means “putting mercy into action” and living lives that are “shaped by mercy.” In the first secret, we learn that “the Father’s plan is to introduce each of His children into the Trinity – to divinize us and unite us with Him and with each other in mutual self-giving love.”  He explains the secrets of Divine Mercy with such ease, sharing personal examples and using humor that you feel as if you are simply conversing with a personal mentor. This is a fulfilling and inspiring book that will nourish you in your faith and help you put the Divine Mercy devotion into practice in your life.

3.  33 Days to Merciful Love: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat -- Fr. Michael Gaitley's consecration to Divine Mercy -- Don't put it off! Do it this year -- in the Jubilee Year of Mercy! In my humble opinion, this is Fr. Gailtley's best book to date. I loved it!

4.  The Kiss of Jesus: How Mother Teresa and the Saints Helped Me to Discover the Beauty of the Cross by Donna-Marie Cooper-O'Boyle -- Catholic Non-Fiction (Spiritual Memoir)

I have been reading and reviewing Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s books for the past seven years and have been a big fan. Donna-Marie has served as an inspiration to me and to all women, speaking to us in a gentle, gracious manner, guiding us spiritually, with wisdom and love. Now, she has written a book (her twentieth) that tops them all. In The Kiss of Jesus: How Mother Teresa and the Saints Helped Me to Discover the Beauty of the Cross, she shares her life story. And, what a story it is!

In this candid, astonishing autobiographical account, this soft-spoken, delicate, and devout Catholic media celebrity reveals the shocking struggles she has tackled in life. She became engaged to a drug addict who held her against her will, threatening harm to her family. She faced miscarriages, abuse, serious illness, divorce, financial difficulties, custody battles, and single motherhood – all with great inner strength and tremendous courage. Through God’s providence, she met Mother Teresa, the spiritual guide who shepherded her through some of these trials and helped her heal. Her ten year relationship with this saint provided the spiritual nourishment she needed to stay strong and to live an even holier life. In The Kiss of Jesus, Donna-Marie also reveals the joys in her life and shares instances of the incredible joy she brings to the hearts of others. She tells us that she was “born to be a mother” and expounds on her beautiful love for her vocation.

The Kiss of Jesus is an engaging, easy to read, fast-moving story that keeps you wanting more. It is an inspiring tale that will encourage all who read it. We have all been wounded in this life and will be rejuvenated by Donna-Marie’s words of hope and healing. Her memoir speaks especially to those who have suffered injustices and are angry, bitter, or resentful. Donna-Marie teaches us how to move beyond the pain and brokenness of the past to the peace and wholeness of the present, which occurs when we forgive and cultivate compassion for others. In doing so, we, too, will experience the joy of the Lord that emanates from the Holy Spirit.

I heartily recommend The Kiss of Jesus to all my readers. It is a book that will have a profound impact on your life, drawing you in the direction of holiness.

5. From Grief to Grace by Jeannie Ewing

I have just started reading this book, so I cannot give you a full review, just yet, as it is on my summer reading list. It was just released and it is fascinating.

Here is some information about the book:

Grief touches all of our lives, but it does not have to paralyze us with fear or inaction. God allows suffering because He knows how powerful it can be to our spiritual lives and to helping us fully embrace His love and mercy. In this insightful and practical book, you'll learn how to live a life of redemptive suffering that will draw you through grief into a state of tenacity, meaning, holiness, and joy.

Author Jeannie Ewing is no stranger to suffering. Her family has long struggled with bipolar disorder and depression, and her baby daughter was born with a rare genetic disorder that caused her bones to prematurely fuse together. Despite the many layers of sadness, loss, confusion, and anger, Jeannie responded to Gods calling and transformed her life into one with profound purpose and joy.

Combining her training in psychology and counseling with real-life examples, Jeannie will show you that there is much life to be lived in the midst of loss, and that all things even the most painful life experiences are working together for a greater good. You'll also learn:

The all-too-often misunderstood difference between grief and depression.
The spiritual benefits to uniting your crosses with Jesus's Passion and Death.
The counter-intuitive notion that grief and joy can coexist.
The spiritual danger of internalizing our pain and hiding it from others
How great saints like St. John of the Cross and St. Therese of Liseux struggled to make sense out of suffering.
The six spiritual principles that will assist you on the journey of navigating grief.
How to know when you should seek professional help.
Ways in which God is calling you to bring hope and joy to those dwelling in darkness.
How to confidently confront the nothingness and emptiness you feel in your interior life.
And Meditations on the Stations of the Cross, the Sorrowful Mysteries, and the Seven Sorrows of Mary that will help you reflect on how redemptive suffering can help you embrace God's love and mercy.

6.  Dying for Revenge (The Lady Doc Murders Book 1) by Dr. Barbara Golder -- Catholic Fiction is another book on my list for summer reading, so I am unable to review it just yet. I love a good mystery and have heard this one is super! I blogged about it HERE.

7. Last but not least, my own book, Learning to Love with the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir which was recently released is a good one to add to this list. Here is some information about Learning to Love with the Saints and some reviews:

Learning to Love with the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir gives us practical insight into the abundant love and mercy that flows from the Sacred Heart of Jesus to our hearts when we learn to trust in His love and mercy.  The lives of the saints convey precious lessons of love and guidance on how to live virtuous lives. When we befriend them and ask for their prayers, miraculous transformations can occur in our lives and the lives of those around us.  Learning to Love with the Saints shows us how to develop a personal relationship with God, to grow more deeply in love with Him, to trust in His mercy and to use the saints as our supporters and spiritual guides.

Learning to Love with the Saints is the inspiring personal witness of how Jean M. Heimann was wooed by Jesus to return to the Church after being raised Catholic and then leaving her faith for fifteen years. In this riveting memoir, Jean tells the story of growing up in the Midwest in a French-Catholic family during the tumultuous times of the sexual revolution, the Vietnam War and mass misinterpretation of Vatican II in the Church in the '60s. 

Jean grew up in a stable home environment with devout, hardworking Catholic parents. As a young adult, she deeply desired adventure and romance and yearned for love; however, she searched for it with unsuitable partners. Her life took some treacherous turns as she entered into marriage with a drug-addicted, abusive man, which was soon followed by divorce, causing her to leave her Catholic faith. 

Throughout her life, Jean faced numerous sufferings and trials: unemployment, loss, divorce, chronic illness, financial difficulties, and emotional heartaches. In spite of personal and professional accomplishments and successes, she describes feeling empty inside.  In this intimate account, Jean shares her fears, her pain and the graces she received from God to rise above her circumstances.  She reveals how she came to see her own value in the eyes of God, to surrender to Him and to embrace His tender love and mercy.  
Jean expertly weaves Pope St. John Paul II’s theology of the body, Scripture passages, brief biographies of the saints, and poignant quotes from the saints into her story to illustrate how the saints served as spiritual guides who interceded for her, resulting in some astonishing miracles. Through all these trials, it was the saints who restored her faith, kept it alive and helped her discover the meaning of true love.

JEAN M. HEIMANN is a Catholic author and freelance writer with an M.A. in Theology, a parish minister and a diocesan speaker, a retired psychologist and educator, and an Oblate with the Community of St. John.  In addition to her highly acclaimed first book, Seven Saints for Seven Virtues, Jean has had her work published in a variety of Catholic periodicals, some of which include: National Catholic Register, Catholic Exchange, Canticle Magazine, and St. Anthony Messenger/America. Visit Jean at her award-winning blog, Catholic Fire

What are people saying about Learning to Love with the Saints?

 Jean has written a stunningly beautiful spiritual love story which she now shares with the world in this book. You won’t want to miss it. Walk along with Jean as you read her story and allow the saints that Jean affectionately and so aptly tells about, lead you ever deeper into a loving relationship with Our Lord.

--Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, EWTN TV Host, Speaker, and Author of The Kiss of Jesus, Bringing Lent Home with Pope Francis, The Miraculous Medal, Catholic Mom's Cafe, Rooted in Love, Angels for Kids, and many more books.

Jean grew up in the turbulent world of the sixties and seventies when the Church was confused about liturgy and moral teaching. Her only guides were her devout parents and the glamorous TV programs of the day. Like many of us, she was attracted by all that glitters, and stopped practicing her faith. Her tender and deeply personal memoir is, a love story of how Christ wooed her soul via the example of joyful Catholics both living and in Heaven. Jean relates, in the context of her journey, precious wisdom on how to find your way home, in the midst of trials and suffering, to the arms of Our Lord.

--Leticia Velasquez, author of A Special Mother is Born and From the Hub to the Heart

With Learning to Love With the Saints, Jean M. Heimann has written a beautiful and moving memoir that illustrates how the holy saints' examples not only increase our faith, but give us the strength we need in difficult times. Highly recommend!

--Ellen Gable Hrkach, award-winning novelist and book coach

At some point, we will suffer tragedy, loss, or illness.  In Learning to Love With the Saints, Jean M. Heimann shows us that suffering can be transformed into love as we take the hands of our heavenly companions and journey with the saints through our times of trial and hardship.  Like Jean, we can learn how to love the most difficult people and circumstances by modeling our lives after the virtues exemplified by the saints.

--Jeannie Ewing, author of From Grief to Grace: The Journey from Tragedy to Triumph and Navigating Deep Waters: Meditations for Caregivers.  

It is one thing to read about God working through the great saints who seem so distant from us. It is quite another to see him working through someone who keeps journeying on, because God’s love is working in and through them. This book is inspiring and uplifting and I recommend it knowing that it can do for others what it has done for me.  

--David Torkington – Spiritual Theologian, speaker and retreat leader, author of Wisdom from the Western Isles.

Jean M. Heimann's blog and first book are dedicated to telling the stories of saints. In Learning to Love With the Saints, Jean shares her own surprising and inspiring faith story, tracing a path walked with growing devotion and conviction. 

--Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS; freelance writer and editor, blogging at and author at

Jean M. Heimann's Learning to Love With the Saints is wise and full of beauty, a memoir to be savored and brought to prayer. Read it and be blessed, and then share it with someone you love.

--Lisa Mladinich, catechist and workshop leader, author of True Radiance: Finding Grace in the Second Half of Life

Journey with Jean Heimann in this memoir and you'll find yourself growing closer to God and learning about His mercy.
 - Sarah Reinhard, author and blogger,

You can read more reviews on Amazon.

Happy Reading!

Have a blessed weekend!


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