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Review of “The Haunted Cathedral

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The Haunted Cathedral

The second installment in Antony Barone Kolenc’s The Hardwood Mysteries, The Haunted Cathedral picks up right where we left Xan at the end of The Shadow in the Dark. This fast-paced historical fiction trilogy set in Middle Age England follows the adventures and misadventures of young Xan, an orphaned boy trying to find his family- and God’s will. In Shadows in the Dark, Xan tries to recover his memory after a group of bandits leaves him wounded and burns his home. In this second book, The Haunted Cathedral, Xan struggles to learn how to forgive and move on. A little mystery might be just what he needs to help distract him from his hatred.

Meticulous Historical Fiction

I really appreciate the care Kolenc takes to accurately represent Middle Age England. From monasteries to towns to castles to cathedrals, Kolenc takes the reader on a tour of what life was like for an orphaned serf boy in the Middle Ages. Speaking of serfs, these books subtly explore the relationships between serfs and lords, monasteries and patrons, merchants and monks. The intricate castes of the Middle Ages get attention in this book as Xan realizes that as a serf he doesn’t have the freedom to choose a vocation or even where to live.

In keeping with the setting, there are some fundamental lifestyle differences. For example, 12 and 14 year old children are already considering courtship, which is of course strange to our modern sensibilities. Xan’s interest in the girls is handled very gently and discreetly though. Kolenc includes a section at the back of the book which outlines many of the unique traditions of the Middle Ages for readers.

An Intriguing Mystery

What are ghosts? Xan and his friends Lucy, Simon, and Christina are fascinated by tales of a ghost in the Cathedral. A wise monk and priest give the different Catholic perspectives on ghosts. In the end, Xan realizes that trying to reconnect with his parents through a ghost isn’t the wisest idea. Instead, he and his friends help solve the Cathedral mystery and restore another orphan to his parents.

A Fresh Catholic Series

It’s fun to see new Catholic historical fiction getting published. Parents will appreciate the discussion questions in the beginning and historical enrichment at the end. Best of all, this series takes on a slippery topic- the Church in the Middle Ages- with an honest and unapologetic tone. There are very good monks, and troubled monks. There are pros and cons to the power the Church and its ministers held in that time period. These are good reflections for the intended tween and teen audience to begin to consider.

You can buy The Hardwood Mysteries: The Haunted Cathedral through my Amazon affiliate link: The Haunted Cathedral

Or through my BookShop page: The Haunted Cathedral

I received a copy of The Haunted Cathedral from Loyola Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Around Europe in 20 Chapter Books: Printable List

You all enjoyed touring Europe in Chapter Books so much I got requests for a printable version of this list!

So here it is: a short and sweet 20 book list perfect for a summer reading challenge. Travel around Europe from the comfort of your living room with these classic chapter books!

printable list europe chapter books
printable europe chapter books list

Here is a FREE printable PDF download link of the color version:

Or, if you’re like me and chronically out of color ink in your printer, here’s a tamer black and white printable version:

Want to help keep the book lists coming?

1. Go to my Book Lists and buy a few books for your family through my links! Your family gets new books, and I get a small affiliate fee at no additional cost to you. Win for us both!

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4. Most important, pray for my mission to continue. I love connecting Catholic families with great books in this easy, free way and hope to be able to continue to do so for many years!

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Around Europe in 20 Chapter Books

Europe map with chapter book covers

Tour Europe Through Living Books!

These 20 Classic Chapter books set in Europe capture the culture and flavor of life in a variety of European countries. Since most of us can’t travel the world right now in person, entering these countries through our imagination may be the next best option. Here’s my picks for a literary tour of Europe this summer!

Ireland

Visit the Emerald Isle and experience everyday life in The Cottage at Bantry Bay by Hilda Van Stockum.

Amazon affiliate link: The Cottage at Bantry Bay

England

In The Secret Garden, experience England for the first time through the eyes of Mary Lennox, a sickly child from India. Discover the magic of an English country garden and the moors.

Amazon affiliate link: The Secret Garden

England (Lake Country)

Join the Swallows and Amazons on their summer holidays in England’s beautiful lake country. Capture the flag, camp on a deserted island, and find some treasure in this classic.

Amazon afflink: Swallows and Amazons

Scotland

From the shores of Scotland to early America and back, this sweeping story of the Catholic persecution in Scotland includes realistic Scotch dialect and plenty of castles.

Amazon afflink: Outlaws of Ravenhurst

Sweden

Come join The Children of Noisy Village in life in a tiny Swedish village. Astrid Lindgren of Pippi Longstocking fame brings Sweden to life in this charming chapter book.

Amazon affiliate link: The Children of Noisy Village

Norway

Our part-Norwegian family love Snow Treasure: a true story of brave Norwegian children who smuggled their country’s treasure away from the Nazis on sleds.

Amazon affiliate link: Snow Treasure

Netherlands

In this sadly hard to find Newberry Medal winner, a group of Dutch schoolchildren bring their community together as they work to bring back the storks.

Amazon affiliate link: The Wheel on the School

Netherlands

Learn about windmills and the Dutch resistance in The Winged Watchman.

Amazon Affiliate link: The Winged Watchman

Denmark

In Number the Stars, a young Danish girl and her family embody the heroism of the Danish people who helped save almost all the Jewish citizens of their country during World War II.

Amazon affiliate link: Number the Stars

Poland

Enter the adventures and intrigues of medieval Poland with Josef in The Trumpeter of Krakow.

Amazon affiliate link: The Trumpeter of Krakow

Germany

The Grimm Brothers traveled through the Black Forest collecting the tales that are at the essence of the German soul.

Amazon affiliate link: Fairy Tales

France (Paris)

A homeless man meets three homeless children who take shelter under “his” bridge. An unlikely family emerges.

Amazon affiliate link: The Family Under the Bridge

France (Rural)

Twenty Catholic children living in the French mountains help save ten Jewish refugee children.

Amazon affiliate link: Twenty and Ten

Hungary

The Good Master takes you right into the heart of Hungary with a fantastic description of farm life, the countryside, the celebrations, and folk tale retellings.

Amazon Affiliate link: The Good Master

Switzerland

Everyone has to read Heidi, of course!

Amazon affiliate link: Heidi

Switzerland/Alps

This fantastic book about a boy determined to scale a mountain to fulfill his father’s dream brings the Alps to life in all their majesty and danger.

Amazon affiliate link: Banner in the Sky

Austria

Come visit the White Stallion of Lipizza at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

Amazon affiliate link: White Stallion of Lipizza

Italy (Northern)

A boy and his donkey work to save the local monastery and an American soldier during World War II.

Amazon affiliate link: The Small War of Sergeant Donkey

Italy (Southern)

Everyone is terrified of a cursed grotto; everyone but the mysterious strangers who are determined to uncover its secrets. A story of the discovery of the famed blue grotto of Capri.

Amazon affiliate link: Red Sails to Capri

Greece

Travel back to the days of Greek heroes with Padraic Colum in the iconic Golden Fleece.

Amazon affiliate link: The Golden Fleece: And the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles

Enjoyed this visit to Europe in chapter books? Check out more great books for Catholic kids on My Book lists!

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Review of “The Good Master”

The Good Master

Although only time will tell what books of the last century last through the centuries as true classics, I’ll venture to predict Kate Seredy’s The Good Master and The Singing Tree will be on that short list. Hungarian born Kate Seredy was a brilliant children’s author who lived from 1899-1975. She wrote prolifically and was also a talented artist who illustrated her own books. My favorite books by Seredy are the The Good Master and its sequel. Both books were Newberry Honor books and much lauded. Best of all, these books tell an engaging story: a story about two cousins and a farm and a war and a lost way of life. They’re a window that gives a glimpse into the early twentieth century your family will never forget.

These books are living history at its best!

The Good Master tells a simple story of Hungarian farm life in the early twentieth century. Jansci’s father is a successful farmer known far and wide as “The Good Master” for his gentle but firm way with animals and children. When Jansci’s difficult city cousin Kate comes to visit, the peaceful farm life is thoroughly shaken up. But in the end, the magic of animals, country life, and never ending family love cure Kate of her willfulness. Mostly. This first book showcases the simple beauty of country life and the Hungarian traditions throughout the year.

In sharp contrast, The Singing Tree begins with the advent of The Great War: World War I. Jansci and Kate are barely in their teens, but suddenly having to take charge of the farm as Jansci’s father must leave for war. In this sequel, Seredy draws a poignant picture of the challenges the impoverished Hungarian farmers and peasants faced, their confusion about the war, and how they survived by helping one another. This book, though sad, is even more beautiful than The Good Master. If you’re studying the early twentieth century or World War I, The Singing Tree is a must-read.

Anything parents should be aware of?

No violence, sexual content, language, and so on. These books are squeaky clean and beautifully written! There is some dramatic tension in the second book about whether Jansci’s father will come home. Other soldiers from their village die in the war. There are orphans and homeless who shelter on Jansci’s farm. Undeniably, the Singing Tree is a very sad book at times. But it’s also a story of strength and courage and heroic charity. I recommend reading these books in the middle grades, around age 10-12. But like true classics, they’re very enjoyable read aloud as a family also!

You can buy The Good Master through my Amazon affiliate link: The Good Master and The Singing Tree.

For more great books for Middle Grade kids, check out My Book Lists, especially:

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American Revolutionary War Chapter Books for Catholic Kids

Living History Books blend fiction and historical events in a unique way that captures kids’ interest. The chapter books on this list are a great springboard for getting your kids interested in learning more about the American Revolutionary War and the great men who helped found our country!

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This simply means that I will receive a small fee if you buy through my link at no additional cost to you.

Ben and Me American Revolutionary War

Ben and Me is a unique biography of Benjamin Franklin, cleverly written by his trusty sidekick Amos the Mouse. This book is hilarious, memorable, and easy to read. Perfect for 8-10 year olds.

Mr. Revere and I
American Revolutionary War Chapter book

Scheherazade the chesnut Mare used to belong to a cruel British officer. When she begins a new life with Paul Revere she ends up playing a pivotal role in helping the American patriots when Paul makes his famous ride to sound the alarm. After your children read Mr. Revere and I, your whole family can enjoy reading Longfellow’s fantastic poem Paul Revere’s Ride aloud.

On the other side of the Atlantic, George III of England seemingly inexplicable treatment of the American colonists gets a fresh look in Can’t You Make Them Behave, King George? Newberry Winning author Jean Fritz draws on amusing anecdotes of King George’s childhood to help children understand this man who drove a country to revolt.

10 year old Ellen bravely takes her ailing grandfather’s place in a dangerous spy mission to help the American patriots in Toliver’s Secret. A thrilling story of a shy girl’s courage and patriotism.

The Childhood of Famous Americans series has over 50 volumes that teach history through engagingly writing about the childhood and young adulthood of famous Americans. For a Revolutionary War character study, I recommend their biographies of George Washington, Martha Washington, and Benjamin Franklin.

The Reb and the Redcoats follows the American Revolution from the perspective of a British family. When they are forced to house an American POW, it changes everyone’s perspective. A thought-provoking book that gives “both sides” of the story.

The Minute Boys of Lexington and The Minute Boys of Bunker Hill are by the author of The Hardy Boys! These old classics bring alive the story of the Minute Men and several famous American Revolutionary War battles.

Guns for General Washington retells the story of a courageous 19 year old who transported 183 guns across a state to help General Washington win an important battle in Boston.

In True to the Old Flag, prolific historical fiction writer G. A. Henty focuses on a young British soldier’s experiences fighting in America and Canada during World War II. I found this book gave a fascinating and often unheard perspective, focusing on the Loyalist American arguments and the British cooperation with the Native Americans. 10+

Johnny Tremain is a young silversmith who tragically injures his hand, ending his budding career. But soon, he finds himself working for the Patriot newspapers and being drawn into the fight for independence. 10+

A centuries old feud and some friendly ghosts lead orphaned Peggy on a journey back in time to interact with her American Revolutionary War ancestors. A touch of mystery, a touch of Romance, and a lot of masterful historical fiction make The Sherwood Ring a favorite of mine. 12+

Looking for more living history chapter books? Check out my list of World War II Chapter Books or my other books lists:

ethnic mother and little kids reading book in bed

Review of “My Book House” Series

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My Book House

Looking for a delightful collection of classic stories, poetry, and unique tales from around the world? My Book House has all this and more! My children all love these charming volumes, full of detailed illustrations and stories we’ve never read anywhere else.

12 Volumes: Something for the Whole Family

In 1928, Olive Beaupre Miller created the My Book House collection to encourage a love of literature in children from the nursery up through high school. There’s an appropriate volume for each child in your family! Volume 1, In The Nursery, contains a wealth of nursery rhymes and short poems from around the world divided by country. In the next book, Story Time, you’ll find short stories, mostly folk tales from a diverse variety of countries: India, Norway, France, Germany, Russia, South Africa, and more. There’s also a variety of poetry interspersed with the stories.

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The subsequent 10 volumes continue the pattern of alternating poetry and prose.

For example, in The Magic Garden you’ll find the Greek myth about Phaeton, fairy tales from Romania, Hungary, Serbia and more, folk tales from New Zealand and Egypt, and selections from Dickens, Shakespeare, and Hawthorn.

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In the other volumes, you’ll find composer sketches, biographies of famous men, myths, and more. From classic fairy tales to folk lore from around the world to great poems, this collection has something to offer every child.

Various Editions

My Book House was in print for nearly 50 years, so several editions have appeared. The very earliest editions were bound in black. Pictured below is the “Rainbow Set” from the 1950s, which was edited and updated by Miller herself. She continued to be involved in the updating of the volumes until her retirement in the early 1960s. The last edition, the white covered one, was published in 1972 and may have had changes made that Miller did not approve.

Why buy it for your family library?

These books are worth buying if you have young children. By listening to, and later reading themselves, these stories from around the world, your children will broaden their horizons and expand their understanding of a variety of cultures and countries. They’ll pour over the detailed artwork. They’ll be inspired to read more by the authors featured. They’ll even have a decent basis for a liberal arts education just by reading these volumes.

Since My Book House has been out of print for almost 50 years, it’s a bit pricey to buy. You can usually find sets on Amazon available for $150-300 depending on the edition.

Rainbow set (affiliate link): My Book House, Volumes 1-12 and Parents’ Guide

White set (affiliate link): My Book House (12 Volume Set)

Volume 1, In the Nursery, has been reprinted recently and is available as a standalone volume on my Bookshop page: https://bookshop.org/a/15310/9780486499062

For more great books for Catholic Kids, check out my Book Lists!

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World War II Chapter Books for Catholic Kids

Living Books bring history to life like never before for kids.

As Charlotte Mason taught, living books use well-written stories to capture the imagination and inspire an interest in the subject. History is a perfect subject to utilize living books as a teaching or enrichment tool.

World War II is both a fascinating and a tragic time period to study. The pathos and heroism showed during the terrible war has inspired many authors to write inspiring historical fiction stories for children.

And it’s very, very important that we encourage our children to read these books. As some schools, and even countries like Iran, deny that the Holocaust happened, we need our children to understand the truth of what happened during World War II. These living history books will bring alive the events of World War II in a way that children will remember. Stories are powerful!

“To forget [the Holocaust] would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”

Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Auschwitz Survivor.

Here are some of my favorite chapter books about World War II.

In Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, ten year old Annemarie and her family become one of the many heroic Christian families who hid Jewish children to save them from the death camps. This unforgettable story highlights the heroism of the Danish people and underground.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Number the Stars

Buy it through my BookShop affiliate link: https://bookshop.org/lists/world-war-ii-chapter-books-for-catholic-kids

Hilda Van Stockum’s The Winged Watchman is the perfect World War II resistance story: exciting, fast-paced, with a touch of sadness. The young Verhagen brothers get a once in a lifetime opportunity for heroism when they find a downed British pilot hiding in a windmill. Also contains a true story of how windmills were used for underground signaling during the war. A memorable story about a Catholic family’s efforts to save the innocent in Holland. 8-12 year olds.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: The Winged Watchman

Moving to the Norwegian resistance, Snow Treasure retells the true story of how Swedish children helped smuggle the country’s gold out of the country to keep it from Nazi seizure. Great for 8-12 year olds.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Snow Treasure

Buy it through my Bookshop link: https://bookshop.org/lists/world-war-ii-chapter-books-for-catholic-kids

In Twenty and Ten, a group of 20 French Catholic schoolchildren get their chance to make a difference in the war when they’re asked to hide 10 Jewish children. A sweet story with a funny ending perfect for 8-12 year olds.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Twenty and Ten

Buy it through my BookShop link: https://bookshop.org/lists/world-war-ii-chapter-books-for-catholic-kids

In Italy, 12 year old Chico’s village becomes a headquarters for American soldiers during the last months of World War II. Chico’s friendship with the local monks and American soldiers will lead him into an unforgettable adventure.

Buy through my Amazon affiliate link: The Small War of Sergeant Donkey

Buy it through the publisher: https://bethlehembooks.com/

I Am David is the touching story of a 12 year old boy who has spent most of his memory in a death camp. Escaping, he travels across Europe with only his compass and wits to help him survive. 10 and older.

Buy through my Amazon affiliate link: I Am David

Buy through my Bookshop page: https://bookshop.org/lists/world-war-ii-chapter-books-for-catholic-kids

In Enemy Brothers, Nazi-raised Max finds his world turned upside down when he is returned to his English family. A great story about family love and its power to change hearts. 10 and older.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Enemy Brothers

In The Silver Sword (also published as Escape from Warsaw) three Polish children scramble to survive in the ruins of Warsaw. But unexpectedly they find purpose and hope when they learn their parents may have also survived the war. Now they just have to find them. 10 and older.

Buy through my Amazon affiliate link: The Silver Sword

The Mitchells: Five for Victory is a Homefront story about an American Catholic family whose five children help in their small ways to win the war and keep the house going. Read my full review here. Perfect for 8-12 year old readers or also great as a family read aloud.

Buy through my Amazon Affiliate link: Five for Victory

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Review of “The Mitchells” Series

The Mitchells Five for Victory

A Hilarious Read Aloud

Do you want to enjoy reading aloud to your children but sometimes feel bored with the standard childhood read aloud canon? Check out The Michells series by Hilda Van Stockum, a Catholic mom of six. In this semi-autobiographical series, Hilda Van Stockum perfectly captures the love, chaos, and hilarity of family life. It’s the perfect read aloud for parent and kids: the kids love the Mitchell children’s antics, and I laugh out loud in sympathy with the overwhelmed parents.

A Relatable Catholic Family

Any Anne of Green Gables fans out there? Do you remember the notoroious cake story and Anne’s early writing struggles? She only begins to achieve success when she begins writing about what she knows: small town life on the island.

Similarly, Hilda Van Stockum, a Catholic convert and mother, writes this absolutely charming series about what she knows: life with half a dozen Catholic children.

The Mitchells aren’t a perfect family. Kids break things, lose their siblings, and lose their tempers. But they take care of each other, they apologize, and they work together to keep the home fires burning during World War II.

The first book, The Mitchells: Five for Victory, has the least overtly Catholic content. But in the second book, Canadian Summer, you will see the family going to great lengths to attend Mass. Actually, Mother’s determination to bring the whole family to Mass despite no car, mud puddles, dusty roads, only two bikes, and runaway dogs is quite touching.

Meet the Mitchells

Joan is the responsible oldest girl who’s determined to keep all the children in line. Patsy is a dreamy artist. Peter’s a sturdy boy who feels responsible for protecting his sisters. Angela has the golden curls and blue eyes of an angel and makes more trouble than a houseful of animals. Timmy is a serious baby who bites everything.

Then there’s Granny, a delightful Dutchwoman who doesn’t let her age keep her from adventure. Mother is, refreshingly, an achingly realistic parent who rushes around distributing love and discipline in equal measures. Last but not least, there’s Father, who leaves to fight in World War II as Five for Victory begins with the parting admonition: “NO PETS!”

Of course, the family somehow ends up with a rabbit, some fish, a parrot, a kitten, a squirrel, and a dog by the last chapter…

Subsequent Books

In Canadian Summer, the Mitchells move to Canada. Housing is difficult to find, so Father optimistically rents a remote ski cabin miles inaccessible by road and without power. Mother is not pleased to put it mildly, but over the course of the summer the Mitchells all learn the grace of having less and make new French Canadian Catholic friends.

The last book, Friendly Gables, picks up years later with the oldest Mitchells children in high school. This one has more focus on school interactions and Joan coming of age so is generally more interesting for the 11+ crowd.

Where can I buy the books?

In addition to being a fantastic read aloud, the Mitchell series is a wonderful choice for a middle grade independent reader.

The Mitchells: Five for Victory and its sequels are kept in print by Catholic publisher Bethlehem Books. You can buy the books on their website. The best time to buy is when they run a 50% off sale, usually in November/December.

You can also buy the books through my affiliate links: Five for Victory, Canadian Summer, and Friendly Gables.

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Review of “Our Boy”

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Our Boy

From Catholic publisher Te Deum Press comes this translation of Fr. Hublet’s novel Our Boy. Set at the onset of World War II, this book follows the adventures of an orphaned Belgian boy, Jackie. Never before printed in English, this beloved Belgian book has great themes about family, friendship, and temptation.

Material versus Spiritual Wealth

10 year old Jackie comes from a world of wealth and privilege, but finds happiness with the poorer, holy Arcueil family. When Jackie is offered a return to a comfortable but Godless life, he has to make a tough decision. Will he choose to stay with the family that loves him and continue learning about Catholicism? Or will he choose material possessions and a life spent pursuing pleasure?

Great for 10-14 year olds

10-14 year olds will enjoy Our Boy. There is moderate suspense in the beginning as the Germans invade France. There’s also a violent car accident that kills Jackie’s grandfather and aunt. The most mature content is when a troubled Jackie briefly contemplates taking his own life. No graphic violence, language, or inappropriate content, so overall this is quite appropriate for a young audience. The historical fiction setting in occupied Belgium makes this book an interesting addition to learning about occupied Europe during World War II.

Our Boy is available to buy through Te Deum Press: https://www.tedeumpress.com/product/our-boy/

For more good books for 10-14 year olds , check out My Book Lists!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Our Boy” from Te Deum Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

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Review of “Giorgio’s Miracle”

Giorgio's Miracle

Giorgio’s Miracle by Laurie Schmitt is a charming little story about a Eucharistic Miracle. Giorgio is a sweet, devout boy who loves our Eucharistic Lord and is troubled by the lack of faith he sees around him in Turin. He begins to pray for a miracle to reignite the faith of the townspeople of Turin. Little does he know that his beloved donkey friend Franca will play a part in the miracle!

Giorgio’s Miracle is a wonderful book to read to 4th-6th graders to inspire a love of Jesus in the Eucharistic. I think some aspects of this book would be great for first communicants, but can’t recommend for that young an age due to some violence from the two villains in the story. These two thieves are cruel to each other and to Franca the donkey; sensitive children may be upset by this part of the story.

This book is an imagined version of how the the Eucharistic Miracle of Turin in 1453 occurred. It will be sure to inspire faith and interest in Eucharistic Miracles. Overall, Giorgio’s Miracle would make a great addition to a Catholic library or study of the Eucharist.

Giorgio’s Miracle is available to purchase here at Shop Mercy, where purchases help support the Marian priests and brothers at the National Shrine for Divine Mercy.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Giorgio’s Miracle” from the author in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.