Thursday, July 28, 2011


Over the next few months we’ll be doing a series of Reviews on a group of books released by the Church Health Center of Memphis, TN. Today we’re looking at the first one of the group 40 Days to Better Living, Optimal Health.

Forty days is, of course, a Biblical number and I’m sure that was among the reasons they chose it. Following a regimen of exercise, prayer and contemplation for more than a month gets a person off to good start on a life-changing adventure.

Dr. Scott Morris founded the Church Health Center in 1987. Today, they handle 36,000 patient visits, have 120,000 wellness visits, and have a staff of 250. They are unique in that they provide all of this care without Government funds. The Center is Christian-based and espouses treating the whole person — mind, body and spirit.

The book is set up in daily increments. Each of them begins with a short Morning Reflection. Their message is generally low-key and not strongly denominational. They do, however, acknowledge the role of God in our lives and well-being. Prayerful living is definitely encouraged. They also encourage each person to keep a journal of their goals and progress. As a matter of fact, they provide space right in the book for it. Each day ends with an Evening Reflection. Regardless of where an individual might be in their spiritual journey, following this simple routine is bound to increase a person’s awareness of God working in their life.

Nearly every page has colorful illustrations and there are half a dozen “stories” scattered through the pages. Each one features an individual who came to the Center with a specific health issue and the progress they made due to the program. Rather than being a get-rich-quick scheme like so many books on Health, these books are part of a larger ministerial outreach and this is reflected in their modest price. The list price on Optimal Health is a thrifty $7.99 and I expect the others will be as affordable.

If I sound like I’m impressed, it’s because I am. Rather than tell you how great the book is, I’d rather share a personal story. I suffer from degenerative arthritis of the spine that has impacted the nerves in one of my legs. Lifting, bending and walking have become increasingly difficult. After reading the story of Eddie, a man who faced possible amputation of his legs due to an auto accident, I was motivated to do more. I decided if he could do it, maybe I could too. This past week I went for a walk. I wasn’t fast and I relied upon my cane, but I covered almost a mile. That may not sound like much, but it’s the greatest distance I’ve walked in months and I'm looking forward to making additional progress.

We thank Audra Jennings at B&B Media for providing us with a copy for an honest review.
—E G Lewis

Product Details
List Price: $7.99
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Barbour Books
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-1616262648

Friday, July 22, 2011

GOD GAVE US YOU by Lisa Tawn Bergren

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

God Gave Us You (Board Book)

WaterBrook Press; 1st edition (September 19, 2000

***Special thanks to Laura Tucker, WaterBrook Multnomah Publicity, for sending me a review copy.***


Lisa Tawn Bergren is the best-selling author of eight novels, three novellas, and two gift books, with more than a half-million books in print. God Gave Us You is her first children’s book. As an editor during the week and a writer on weekends, she makes her very-messy-but-cozy home in Colorado with her husband, Tim, and their daughters, Olivia and Emma.

Visit the author's website.


Laura J. Bryant attended the Maryland Institute of Art, where she received a strong foundation in drawing, painting, and print-making. Illustrating children’s books has provided her with both a rewarding and creative career. Laura’s clients have included Simon & Schuster, McGraw Hill, and Stech-Vaughn publishers, among others. She currently lives among the tidal rivers on the eastern shore of Maryland with her loving husband and curiously cantankerous cat!

Visit the author's website.


Filled with playful, winsome illustrations by an artist who specializes in polar bear images, this four-color, read-to-me picture book will build children’s self-esteem through the tale of a mama bear who reassuringly explains where her cub came from and affirms Mama and Papa’s great love for her.

And now, Our Review:
God Gave Us You is the first of a series of books that all begin God Gave Us… Designed to answer those first “Where did I come from” questions, this illustrated story for pre-schoolers lets a child know that they not only have a heavenly father, but that they are loved and wanted by their earthly parents. Set in an easy to understand question and answer format, Mama Bear patiently answers each question. Grandparents take note, the book makes a wonderful baby shower gift or a birthday present for a three-year-old. It’s a story youngster never tire of hearing. Strongly recommended.
—E G Lewis

Anyone interested in Seeing smaple pages from the book can go here.

Product Details:

List Price: $10.99
Reading level: Baby-Preschool
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press; 1st edition (September 19, 2000)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1578563232

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


With the exception of her first novel, The Clan of the Cave Bear, I bought all of Jean Auel’s novels as soon as they were released. Her series, Earth’s Children, is my favorite group of books and quite possibly always will be.  I do think she deserves nicer looking book covers, however. I don’t believe any of the artwork was detailed and exacting enough, or up to the quality of her writing.

If you’ve read her earlier novels, you will enjoy following the most recent exploits of Ayla and Jondalar in Jean Auel’s sixth novel, The Land of Painted Caves. If you haven’t read the others, don’t start with this one. Below this review are reviews for each of her other novels in this series.  The Clan of the Cave Bear is the first.

Here they are in order of their publication:
  1. The Clan of the Cave Bear
  2. The Valley of Horses
  3. The Mammoth Hunters
  4. The Plains of Passage
  5. The Shelters of Stone
  6. The Land of Painted Caves
Reviews for these books work their way forward, beginning from the bottom up. I was careful not to place any other book reviews between them.

Jean Auel visited many caves in France filled with ancient paintings, and does an excellent job of describing them in this novel. Have to admit though, that after a while reading about them isn’t the same as being there would be. Much of the book is a Cro-Magnon travelogue, but that’s not a bad thing.

Regrettably, wonderful, handsome Jondalar disappoints in this novel. His shining image is tarnished beyond repair. Although Ayla forgives him, I wouldn’t have. In fact, I wouldn’t have written it that way … I want my hero’s and heroine’s to remain upright in all regards. So, for that reason, this wasn’t my favorite book of the series. It ranks sixth on my list. As I mentioned in an earlier review, my favorite is The Valley of Horses, next is Plains of Passage, then Clan of the Cave Bear, Mammoth Hunters, Shelters of Stone and this one last. But, it is still worth reading just to see Ayla become a Zelandoni and witness Jonayla’s childhood. The Land of Painted Caves divides into three parts.  Sweet Jonayla grows a little older in each one.

Much of the conflict in this novel occurs because of Jondalar’s infidelity. There is another sad aspect to this book, but I won’t give it away.

Ayla continues to educate her new community, including the fact that babies can only begin if a man and a woman share “pleasures” together.  Ayla’s training to become a Zelandoni is enjoyable and fascinating. It takes tragedy for her to actually become a Zelandoni, however.

If you love the characters, Ayla and Jondalar, you should read this book. Although I enjoyed some of the others more, you might feel differently, and I did enjoy it. It is highly recommended after reading the others first.
—Gail Lewis

Product Details:
Hardcover: 757 pages
Language: English
Publisher: Crown Publishers, Inc.
ISBN-10: 0517580519
ISBN-13: 978-0517580516


This is Jean Auel’s fifth book in her Earth’s Children series. It’s also my fifth favorite in the series. 

A year after leaving the mammoth hunting Mamutoi’s, Ayla and Jondalar arrive at his home. These Cro-Magnon groups shelter and make their dwellings in caves, some extremely large. Jondalar’s mother, sister and extended family members welcome his return, and we meet many of his extended family. Ayla faces embarrassment at the hands of a former girlfriend of Jondalar’s, and actually turns it to her advantage. As usual, she wins over most of his people and once again makes a place for herself as a valued member of their society.

Ayla educates them about the Neanderthals they call Flatheads, introduces firestones and much more. Jondalar brings his skills as a flint knapper and introduces them to the spear-thrower he invented. As hoped for, Ayla gives birth to their daughter, Jonayla, and everything concludes with a happy ending.

Ayla and Jondalar’s introduction to his family is fascinating, as are the customs of his people. However, hinted at potential conflicts never transpired. I expected more excitement, and was left wanting. This book lacks the action and intrigue of the previous four. That said, it was still fun to read about the ongoing lives of my favorite characters.

Jean Auel is also an accomplished poet as evidenced by The Mother’s Song, an epic poem the Zelandoni of all the cave communities use to explain their Creation belief and who that divine being is to them. Well worth reading after reading the first four books in the series.
—Gail Lewis

Product Details:
Hardcover: 753 pages
Language: English
Publisher: Crown Publishers, Inc.
ISBN: 0-609-61059-7
ASIN: B001LMZ035

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Jean Auel’s The Plains of Passage is one of my favorite books. It is her fourth novel, and my favorite … second only to The Valley of Horses.  Shortly after its publication, I had the pleasure of attending a writing seminar where Jean Auel spoke. She was inspiring and likeable. I had the good fortune to sit beside her at lunch, a very memorable event for me. Although I had a copy of all her novels with me, I only asked her to sign her latest one, The Plains of Passage. 

For excitement and suspense, this one can’t be beat. Ayla and Jondalar continue their travels toward his home, and the risk of death is often close at hand.  There are a number of very sexy love scenes between the couple too.  They make up for the last book when, to my dissatisfaction, they didn’t spend enough time together. In this one, they do.

By now, Jondalar also rides a horse. Whinny had a foal that Jondalar named Racer. The young stallion becomes his. The horses are also put at risk in this novel, and you won’t be able to quit reading until it’s resolved.  

Together Ayla and Jondalar amaze whoever they encounter. Not only do they ride horses, but they are accompanied by a wolf. The wolf cub that Ayla rescued in the previous novel is now her adoring, loyal companion. She nearly loses Wolf and risks her life to rescue him. Later, Wolf saves her life too after they encounter an evil community of women. True to the heroic characters they are, Jondalar and Ayla survive and transform that community into a healthier one.

The culmination of the book is that Ayla meets Jondalar’s father and his family before continuing on to the Ninth Cave of the Zelandoni, the home Ayla has dreamed of … literally. Don’t miss this novel. It is excellent!
—Gail Lewis

Product Details:
Hardcover: 760 pages
Language: English
Publisher: Crown Publishers, Inc.
ISBN: 0-517-58049-7
ASIN: B001HEC468


Ice Age Europe is brought to life in The Mammoth Hunters.  

In this, the third book in Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series, Jondalar and Ayla set off on a long journey toward his home. They won’t arrive there until the fifth novel, however.  In this one, they encounter more people like themselves, called the Mamutoi, the mammoth hunters. Ayla finds friends within the Mamutoi and they adopt her as a much-loved member of their village.

It is also there that she almost loses Jondalar. Being unfamiliar with the customs of her people, she “thinks” like the clan she was raised in. As a result, and not realizing she has a choice, she accepts an invitation from “Ranec” to couple with him. She likes him and moves into his shelter away from Jondalar, the man she really loves. She doesn’t understand when Jondalar avoids her, and seems angry. I missed the love affair between Ayla and Jondalar, and would’ve preferred less time with Ranec. However, in the end she and Jondalar are reunited. 
There is the usual excitement and suspense in this novel that the first two provide. I particularly enjoyed the humorous return of “Baby” the cave lion, and how shocked the Mamutoi were when Ayla climbed on his back and rode him.  
Jean Auel’s fascinating Cro-Magnon exploits and details never fail to enthrall. Although this is not my favorite book in her series, it’s well worth reading. Don’t miss it, especially since it precedes the fourth and second best book in the series, The Plains of Passage.
—Gail Lewis

Product Details:
Hardcover: 690 pages
Language: English
Publisher: Crown Publishers, Inc.
ISBN: 0-517-55627-8

Monday, July 18, 2011


Of Jean M. Auel’s six novels in her Earth’s Children series, The Valley of Horses is my favorite.  

This novel introduces, Jondalar, the tall, handsome Cro-Magnon man who becomes Ayla’s mate. He is the first non-Neanderthal human she sees since the loss of her family in an earthquake as a child.

After being cast out by the Neanderthal Clan that rescued her at age five, now as a young woman Ayla is forced to survive on her own.  Her survival alone in a valley is both touching and exciting. Her adoption of Whinny, a hay-colored steppe horse foal, and later a cave lion cub, are fascinating and heartwarming. But, it is her introduction to her people, their language and to the love of her life that makes this book so special.

Experience a time when Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon man both shared the earth.  See how domesticating animals may have started. View ways Cro-Magnon man could have evolved, learned and shared his early discoveries.  Fall in love with Jean Auel’s wonderful characters, Ayla and Jondalar.

Ms. Auel has created a world full of family and religious customs based on relics of the past. She makes it believable and highly enjoyable. I thoroughly recommend The Valley of Horses to anyone who hasn’t read it yet. But, even though this second book is the best of the best, read The Clan of the Cave Bear first to get the maximum amount of pleasure.  
—Gail Lewis

Product Details:
Hardcover: 512 pages
Language: English
Publisher: Crown Publishers, Inc.
ISBN-10: 0609610988
ISBN-13: 978-0609610985


I just finished reading the most recent novel by Jean M. Auel, The Land of Painted Caves, and decided to review the entire series of six novels…all of them excellent.

In early 1982 a friend and I attended a Romance Writers seminar at Cerritos College in Norwalk, California. Several published authors each gave a presentation to the large crowd, and at the end they called for questions.

The first question was whether any of them thought there would be a glut of knock-off books copying the success of The Clan of the Cave Bear. I had yet to hear of it, but it seemed like everyone else in attendance already had. The authors were there to promote their own romance novels, but The Clan of the Cave Bear stole the show, and Jean Auel wasn’t even present. The audience buzzed with excitement over that book and I knew I had to read it.

As soon as the seminar ended, I went after a paperback copy of The Clan of the Cave Bear and couldn’t put it down. I was hooked from the first page where a five-year-old girl experiences the earth shake and finds herself orphaned and alone.  Jean Auel’s interpretation of life among Neanderthals as experienced by Ayla, a Cro-Magnon child, kept me enthralled.

I have since purchased a hardbound copy to keep with the rest of her series on Earth’s Children.  If you haven’t read The Clan of the Cave Bear yet, do so. I’ve read it more than once. When you finish it, move on to my favorite, The Valley of Horses.  

I strongly recommend the entire series of six novels that follow the exploits, discoveries and accomplishments of the beautiful and brave Ayla of The Clan of the Cave Bear. The next five books include her equally handsome and brave mate, Jondalar. An exciting read!
—Gail Lewis

Product Details:
Hardcover: 373 pages
Language: English
Publisher: Crown Publishers, Inc (2001)
ISBN-10: 2702868908
ISBN-13: 978-2702868904

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Singular Exploits of WONDER MOM AND PARTY GIRL by Marc Schuster

Wonder Mom Audrey juggles two daughters, a chaotic workplace in need of a workplace mom, and an ex-husband who just might invite her to his wedding, with unending patience and skill and a desperate need to escape. Somewhere between “no one appreciates me” and “let me out of here” is the dull quiet voice of temptation. And after all, how can you really take a stand against something if you’ve never experienced it, just once, just as an experiment, just because you’re tired of being goody-goody and always saying “no”?

Wonder Mom Audrey continues to be a wonder far into her fall, while Party Girl worms her way into her psyche. Marc Schuster’s novel, Wonder Mom and Party Girl is way more fun than it has any right to be, with laugh-out-loud dialog, zany situations, wise daughter and crazy daughter watching while wise mom turns crazy, and nobody that matters seeming to guess what’s going on. Audrey’s life tumbles into chaos while she still seems completely in control. And selling a little cocaine to pay the bills is surely no big crime, not in this American suburbia of excess, excessive demands, and a scent not quite of roses. Still, the reader laughs, though guiltily, till the final blow falls. And then…?

I couldn’t imagine how the author would finish such a book. But when I finished reading I knew the ending was perfect, the pathos just right and a natural antidote to the guilt of earlier humor, the danger achingly portrayed, and the consequences of falling all too real. This book’s almost scarily true to life, witty, biting, and wonderfully balanced, with a female protagonist who every harassed mom will identify with, at least in part.
—Sheila Deeth 
Disclosure: I received a bound galley of this book from the Permanent Press in exchange for an honest review and was, as always, honestly delighted at the chance to read.
Product Details:
Trade Paperback: 279 pages
Language: English
Publisher: The Permanent Press
ISBN 13: 978-1-57962-208-4
Publication Date:  June 2011

Monday, July 11, 2011

SAINTS PESERVED by Thomas J. Craughwell

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics

Image (July 12, 2011)

***Special thanks to Staci Carmichael, Marketing and Publicity Associate, Image Books/ / Waterbrook Multnomah, Divisions of Random House, Inc. for sending me a review copy.***


THOMAS J. CRAUGHWELL is the author of Saints Behaving Badly, Urban Legends, Alligators in the Sewer and 222 Other Urban Legends, Saints for Every Occasion: 101 of Heaven's Most Powerful Patrons, and Do Blue Bedsheets Bring Babies? Every month he writes a column on patron saints for Catholic diocesan newspapers. In addition, he has written about saints for the Wall Street Journal, St. Anthony Messenger, and Catholic Digest and has discussed saints on CNN and EWTN. His book Stealing Lincoln's Body was made into a two-hour documentary on the History Channel.

Visit the author's website.


In Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics, author Thomas Craughwell takes us on an exhilarating journey through the life and death of over three hundred saints and enlightens us about the bits and pieces that were left behind (for example, a finger or a lock of hair) that are honored and revered by Catholics around the world.

Product Details:

List Price: $16.00
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Image (July 12, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307590739
ISBN-13: 978-0307590732



Anyone who thinks that the cult of relics of the saints is itself a relic of the Middle Ages should log on to eBay. On any day of the week the online shopper will find a thriving business in the sale of relics, ranging from dust from the tomb of Christ to splinters of the True Cross to bone fragments of countless saints.

Among the faithful relics have an enormous appeal. In 1999-2000, when relics of St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897), popularly known as the Little Flower, traveled across the United States, millions turned out to touch or kiss the reliquary. The scene was repeated in 2003 when a tiny fragment of the cloak that bears the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was carried from parish to parish throughout the country.

Believers will go out of their way to see famous relics. An online search of Catholic travel companies turns up dozens of itineraries designed specifically to visit churches that exhibit renowned relics, such as the incorrupt body of St. Bernadette in her convent’s chapel in Nevers, France, and the basilica in Padua, Italy, where St. Anthony lies buried.

Though many of the most famous relics like [give a couple more examples] are associated with saints, relics are not limited to the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Buddhists venerates teeth of the Buddha; Islam venerates the sword, the robe, and even strands from the beard of Mohammed. In ancient times, when a farmer or an excavation crew unearthed dinosaur bones, the Greeks and Romans took them for the remains of the Titans, or a legendary hero such as Theseus.

Even secular society prizes relics: at the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois, I saw crowds press around a display case that contained the gloves Mary Todd Lincoln wore to Ford’s Theater, stained with the blood of her assassinated husband. No doubt morbid curiosity played a part, but I believe the desire to see Mary Lincoln’s blood-stained gloves represents something deeper—the longing to have a physical connection with one of the greatest men, and one of the most tragic moments, in American history. It is that same longing to connect on a physical and not just a spiritual level that draws the faithful to the tombs of the saints, the houses where they lived, the altars before which they prayed, even the prisons where they were tortured.

In the Catholic Church relics fall into one of three categories: a first class relic is the physical remains of a saint such as bones, hair, and blood; a second class relic is the personal possessions of a saint, such as clothing, devotional objects, handwritten letters, even furniture; and a third class relic is an object, such a cloth or a holy card, that is touched to first class relic.

Reverence for the remains and belongings of saints is rooted in Sacred Scripture. In 2 Kings 13:20-21 we read of a dead man being restored to life after his corpse touched the bones of the prophet Elisha. In Mark’s gospel we find the story of a woman who suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years and was cured when she touched the hem of Christ’s garment (Mark 5:25-34). And the Acts of the Apostles recounts how Christians touched handkerchiefs and other cloths to the body of St. Paul; when these cloths were given to the sick or the possessed, “diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them” (Acts 19:11-12).

Even in times of persecution the early Christians made an earnest effort to recover the remains of the martyrs so they could be given a proper burial and their martyrdom commemorated annually with Mass celebrated at their tombs. A letter from about the year 156 A.D. describes the martyrdom of the elderly bishop of Smyrna, St. Polycarp. His body had been burned, but the Christians of Smyrna searched among the ashes for any trace of the saint that had not been consumed by the flames. “We took up his bones,” the anonymous author of the letter wrote, “which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place, where the Lord will permit us to gather ourselves together, as we are able, in gladness and joy, and to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom.”

After Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire, great basilicas were built over the tombs of St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. Lawrence, to name only a few. In 386 St. Ambrose discovered the relics of the proto-martyrs of Milan, Sts. Gervase and Protase, and had them enshrined in his church where the faithful could venerate the relics and ask for the martyrs’ intercession. In the City of God, Book 22, St. Augustine bears witness to the many miracles that were wrought by the newly discovered relics of St. Stephen. In Tibilis, during a procession with a relic of the proto-martyr, “a blind woman entreated that she might be led to the bishop who was carrying the relics. He gave her the flowers he was carrying. She took them, applied them to her eyes, and immediately saw.”

There was always the danger, of course, that some Christians in their enthusiasm might treat the saints as if they were little gods and the relics as if they were magical. St. Jerome, in his letter to Riparius, writes of the proper veneration of saints and relics, “We do not worship, we do not adore [saints], for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the Creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore Him whose martyrs they are.”

During the Middle Ages a pilgrimage to a shrine was a popular expression of religious devotion as well as a kind of vacation or road trip. Journeys to the Holy Land, Rome, or Compostela in Spain could be dangerous (St. Bridget of Sweden was shipwrecked on her pilgrimage to Jerusalem), but there were many shrines closer to home where one could venerate relics. Cathedrals, monasteries, and convents began to build up impressive relic collections, the better to attract throngs of pilgrims. Pilgrims were an important asset to local economies: they needed food and lodging, they would make gifts to the church, they would purchase a badge, a holy card, or some other souvenir to recall their journey. In time, aristocrats began to amass private relic collections to which they gave the public access on certain days of the year. In Wittenberg Frederick the Wise kept his collection of thousands of relics in the Wittenberg Castle Church. It was on the door of that church in 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses, an early step in the religious revolution known as the Protestant Reformation.

The Protestants reformers attacked the veneration of relics, but the Catholic bishops at the Council of Trent responded by explaining and defending the practice, saying, “The holy bodies of holy martyrs and of others now living with Christ—which bodies were the living members of Christ and 'the temple of the Holy Ghost' (1 Corinthians 6:19) and which are by Him to be raised to eternal life and to be glorified are to be venerated by the faithful, for through these [bodies] many benefits are bestowed by God on men.” Nonetheless, during the Reformation period vandals smashed countless shrines, burning or otherwise destroying the relics they contained. In Lutheran Scandinavia such violence was rare; typically the relics of a saint were removed from its shrine and buried in an unmarked grave in the same church. As a result, the relics of St. Bridget and her daughter St. Catherine of Sweden, as well as the relics of the martyred king St. Eric, have survived. In England, Scotland, and Wales the reformers destroyed almost every shrine, but in recent years some Anglican bishops have attempted to restore the shrines in their cathedrals. In Winchester Cathedral for example, a small contemporary shrine marks the spot where the shrine of St. Swithun stood during the Middle Ages. The shrine is empty, all of the saints’ bones were destroyed during the Reformation. But at St. Alban’s Abbey a bone of the martyr lies within the new shrine, the gift of the Catholic archbishop of Cologne who had a relic of St. Alban in one of the churches of his archdiocese.

As a rough estimate, the Catholic Church venerates about 40,000 saints. Most of these are local holy men, women, and children, virtually unknown outside the region where they lived and died. To try to catalogue the location of the relics of all of these saints would require the labor of several lifetimes. And to track down the tiny fragments of saints’ bones, the snippets from saints’ clothing, would be impossible. So I have been obliged to narrow my focus. This volume contains approximately 350 entries of the Catholic world’s most important, interesting, unusual, or rare relics. Most but not all of the entries describe the relics of saints. I have included Old Testament relics such Noah’s Ark and the Ark of the Covenant (said to be hidden in a church in Ethiopia); Holy Land relics such as the house where Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived and the stairs from Pontius Pilate’s palace; relics of Jesus Christ, including the Manger, the True Cross, the Shroud of Turin, the Crown of Thorns, Veronica’s Veil, the Pillar of the Scourging, and the Holy Sepulcher; relics of the Virgin Mary such as her veil (at Chartres Cathedral), her portrait (Poland’s Black Madonna and Mexico’s Our Lady of Guadalupe), and in her belt (at Prato Cathedral). For easy reference, the book is arranged in an A-to-Z format. Each entry includes the location of the relic, it history, a brief biography in the case of a saint, and the feast day.

The relics of all saints and blessed of the United States (current at time of this book’s publication date) are included, as well as the relics of many saints and blesseds of Canada and Latin America. I have also included entries for the two largest relic collections in America, Maria Stein in Ohio and St. Anthony’s Chapel in Pittsburgh.

Every year Maria Stein and St. Anthony’s Chapel welcome many visitors, who tend to be an amalgam of the devout and the curious. Probably very few have the level of enthusiasm for relics their ancestors knew during the Middle Ages, when monasteries, convents, cathedrals, and even nobles and kings succumbed to a kind relic-collecting mania. The craving to possess an important, even an exceptional relic, led to all types of abuses, from theft, to relic peddling, to the manufacture of bogus relics—hence the multiple heads of St. John the Baptist. Sadly, some churches claimed to possess relics that were spurious at best and at worst sacrilegious—a feather of the Holy Sprit, for example, or the shield of St. Michael the Archangel. Such “relics” I have not included. In most cases the churches that possessed these items disposed of them or retired them long ago.

Nonetheless, some of the relics included in this book may raise eyebrows. It is true that not all relics that are still publicly venerated can be authenticated with one hundred percent certainty. But if these relics are well-known and the church that possesses them has not put them away, I felt that they ought to be included here.

Every Catholic church and chapel contains at least one relic—it is a requirement of the Church under what is known as canon law that every altar consecrated for the celebration of Mass must contain the relic of at least one saint, preferably a martyr. This requirement links even the most contemporary church with the earliest practice of the Church, when priests offered Mass using the sarcophagus of a martyr as the altar. In addition to the fragmentary relic in the altar, most churches possess other relics, which are sometimes brought out for veneration on a saint’s feast day. On a recent Good Friday it was my privilege to venerate a relic of the True Cross—one of the treasures of the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Stamford, Connecticut.

In some cases years after a saint’s death, his or her grave was opened and the body found to be in a remarkable state of preservation. Generally speaking, the term applied in such a case is “incorruptible.” However, incorruptibility is often in the eye of the beholder. Gazing upon the bodies of some of these saints, the terms “mummified,” “embalmed,” or “desiccated” may also come to mind. The body of St. Bernadette is usually described as incorrupt, and her face is exquisitely beautifully. But the case becomes more complicated when one learns that the saint’s actual face has darkened over time, and so it has been covered with an lovely, utterly lifelike wax mask. The translation of the body of Blessed Pope John XXIII from his sarcophagus in the grottoes beneath St. Peter’s into a side chapel of the basilica set off a debate whether his body was supernaturally incorrupt, whether it had been embalmed at the time of his death. The question has never been resolved definitively. It is possible that Blessed Pope John’s body is so well-preserved because it had been enclosed inside three coffins, and then sealed in a stone sarcophagus.

No one should feel uneasy visiting a shrine or venerating a relic. In many respects it is similar to visiting the grave of a beloved member of the family, or cherishing a family heirloom—but on a much higher level. The shrine or relic is a physical link with someone who was so faithful to God in this life that he or she is now glorified in the Kingdom of God forever. Bringing out Grandma’s china for Christmas dinner stirs the emotions and makes us feel connected once again to someone we loved but who has since died. Relics work in the same way, but more intensely because in the case of sacred relics the connection is not only to someone we love, but to someone who was genuinely holy.

The Aachen Relics (1st century). According to Charlemagne’s biographer, Einhard, in 800 the patriarch of Jerusalem sent a monk to Aachen with four extraordinary relics for the newly crowned Holy Roman Emperor: the dress the Blessed Virgin Mary wore when she gave birth to Jesus Christ; the Infant Jesus’ swaddling clothes; the loincloth Christ wore as he hung upon the cross; and a towel in which was wrapped the head of St. John the Baptist. All four relics are kept in a golden chest that was made for them in 1238; the reliquary is on display in the Treasury of Aachen, Germany’s Cathedral of St. Mary. Once every seven years the relics are exposed for public veneration—the next exposition will be held in 2014.

Aachen’s Kornelimunster, or Church of St. Cornelius, has three precious relics: the cloth Christ tied around his waist when he washed the feet of his apostles at the Last Supper; the shroud in which St. Joseph of Arimathea wrapped the body of Jesus for burial (this is a different shroud than the much more famous Shroud of Turin); and the sudarium, or cloth that was laid over the face of Jesus at the time of his burial.
St. Afra (died 304). The bones of St. Afra are preserved in a simple stone sarcophagus in the crypt of the Basilica of St. Ulrich and St. Afra in Augsburg, Germany. The church is an important historic site: in 1555 the Peace of Augsburg was signed here, putting an end to religious warfare in Germany and establishing the right of individual princes to choose if they would be Catholic or Lutheran. The basilica is split between the Catholic half dedicated to St. Afra and the Lutheran half dedicated to St. Ulrich.

Before her conversion to Christianity Afra had been a prostitute in Augsburg’s temple of Venus. During Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of the Church she was arrested. “You were a prostitute,” the judge reminded her. “The God of the Christians will reject you.”

“Not so,” Afra replied. “Jesus Christ forgave the adulterous woman because her repentance was sincere. And he will forgive me, too.”

The judge sentenced Afra to be suffocated. Guards took her to an island in the middle of the Lech River, bound her to a stake, and built a large smoky fire around her. She choked to death in the fumes.

St. Afra is the patron saint of converts and is one of the patron saints of Augsburg. Feast day: August 7.

And Now, Our Review:
Saints Preserved is an interesting and thorough compendium of the various relics that have been gathered over the centuries. The amount of research Thomas J. Craughwell did to produce such a volume had to have been overwhelming. For that alone he deserves to be congratulated.

Relics admittedly have a somewhat checkered history. While some people readily accept them without question, others feel a bit squeamish about the whole notion of bones and body parts. I particularly liked the analogy Mr. Craughwell makes in his introduction in which he compares the veneration of relics to bringing out Grandma’s china for the annual Christmas dinner. Whether it’s a gravy boat, jewelry, or some other heirloom, most of us have, and treasure, physical remembrances of parents or grandparents who’ve passed on. When one considers the Communion of Saints, the relics seem a little less macabre.

One can trace the collection of relics to very earliest portions of the Early Church. The faithful made every attempt to retrieve the remains of martyrs, even going so far as to pay bribes to ransom them from their executioners. And they’re all here in alphabetic order from the First Century victims of Nero and Domitian to modern saints such as Faustina Kawalska who died in 1938 at the hands of the Nazis. Saints Preserved makes a fascinating and useful reference volume to add to your bookshelf.
—E G Lewis

Saints Preserved is available at

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Just the title, Money Secrets of the Amish, makes you wonder what’s inside the cover. What’s in there is good, solid advice on developing a better perspective on how to handle your money. In a nutshell, it comes down to a philosophy that seems at odds with the rampant consumerism so prevalent in our society. It harkens back to a time when people made do with less, when a penny saved really was a penny earned and your parents reminded you that waste not, meant want not.

Some of the wisdom Lorilee Craker passes on sounds a bit quaint to the modern ear. We live in a time that loves acronyms and she provides the Granddaddy of them all, UWMW — Use it up, Wear it out, Make do or do Without. That little motto coupled with an abhorrence of debt can be the key to financial security.
So what makes the Amish different from the average American? Oh sure, they don’t have electricity or telephones, the men wear beards and funny hats, the women wear bonnets and they “drive” buggies instead of cars. No doubt, this simple living yields benefits for the Plain Folk since it’s often not the high cost of living but the cost of high living that creates problems. However, their secret goes deeper. They’ve learned the art of getting rich slow instead of wasting time trying to get rich quick. Check out the book. In an enjoyable, easy to read way, Lorilee Craker will show you how it’s done.
—E.G. Lewis
Thomas Nelson Publishers provided us with a copy for an honest review.
  • Paperback: 240 pages 

  • Publisher: Thomas Nelson (June 14, 2011) 

  • Language: English 

  • ISBN-10: 159555341X 

  • ISBN-13: 978-1595553416

  • Tuesday, July 5, 2011

    BLACK SWAN by Chris Knopf

    Black Swan is the fifth of author Chris Knopf’s Sam Acquillo Hamptons mystery series and the first where the action doesn’t actually take place in the Hamptons. As a stand-alone novel it’s a character-driven mystery filled with excitement, sailing, scenery and intrigue, and a great introduction to a really great character and series. Sam is piloting his friend Burton Lewis’s new sailboat home from Maine and takes refuge from a dramatic storm on Fishers Island, NY—a private island whose inhabitants have no great love of intruders. Gale force winds and waves the size of houses are so convincingly portrayed I feel I might really have been on such a boat; I haven’t and never will, since the ocean terrifies me, but the author brings the drama powerfully to life with storytelling as filled with poetry as with excitement. Amanda, a woman Sam has come to love in previous books, and the wonderful Eddie (his dog) share the adventure and the trip, while off-boat are “outsiders” Anika and Axel Fey who, together with their father, hope to make a go of the Black Swan hotel and restaurant despite local disapproval.

    The author peoples Fishers Island with well-defined three-dimensional characters, just as surely as he’s peopled the Hamptons in previous volumes. Police procedure is simple, straightforward and dangerous. Death, murder and relationships are closely observed. Landscape and weather form a backdrop as filled with character as the story itself, and the mystery is nicely low-key, perfectly timed and tuned to the parallel mysteries of Sam’s own feelings for his future and past.

    Describing computer programs, ship’s steering systems, people, weather and place all with the same sure confidence, Chris Knopf has written another masterful mystery with characters who continue to learn and grow, adding breadth to depth and ever moving forwards to the promise of more. There’s no need to read the other books before reading this one, but if you haven’t you’ll find it hard to resist going out to look for them. Sam Acquillo is a complex wounded soul on a journey that’s well worth following; knocked down by life’s storms, he stands up and finds himself drawn into other people’s fights, thereby redeeming his own.

    Disclosure: I was sent a bound galley of Black Swan from the publisher, the Permanent Press, in exchange for an honest review.
    —Sheila Deeth

    Hardcover: 304 pages
    Publisher: The Permanent Press
    Language: English
    ISBN-13: 978-1-57962-216-9