A Cozy Catholic Read-Aloud: “The Attic Saint”

New from Emmaus Road Publishing, The Attic Saint by Tim Drake is a wonderfully cozy story, perfect for family read-alouds or for newly independent readers.

Leo and his family have just moved to a big old house in a new city. As the old-fashioned charm of Leo’s new home (a former convent) begins to grow on him, the reflection from a stained-glass window leads him to explore the attic, where he discovers an unusual piece of art: an icon of St. Ambrose.

When the icon seems to speak to Leo, explaining how icons are created and what they mean, the little boy learns about this religious art form and the story of the saint depicted in the icon in his attic. Leo’s insistence on hanging the icon in a special place in his new home begins a transformation for the whole family.

The Attic Saint

Charming illustrations by Theodore Schluenderfritz bring the story to life. The depiction of a small boy in a large, nearly-empty home underscores Leo’s loneliness in his new city. Just as the story is quiet with a touch of suspense, the art is not garish or harsh. The story’s gentle message of openness to God is underscored when Leo’s parents follow his lead in opening the door to faith.

An article in The Central Minnesota Catholic tells how both the story itself and the illustrations were inspired. Schluenderfritz, the creative director at Today’s Catholic Teacher (where I work), told me that Leo’s house in the story was based on an actual home in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I lived in Scranton for four years during college, so that was a fun connection for me.

Don’t miss this cozy Catholic read-aloud: The Attic Saint is a charming picture book featuring a lonely child, an old convent, and a mysterious icon.

"The Attic Saint"
Illustration copyright 2019 Theodore Schluenderfritz. All rights reserved. Used with permission of the publisher.

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Christmas Reads for the Whole Family

I read Christmas books like some people watch Hallmark movies — and my friends know it. Christmas reads are the most common recommendations I receive from fellow readers. I’m good with that.

When my children were little, I used to keep the Christmas storybooks separate from the other picture books we had for them. At the beginning of Advent, I’d bring out the Christmas book basket so they could enjoy those old favorites.

Consider this my virtual book basket — filled with Catholic Christmas reads for readers (and pre-readers) of all ages.

Board Book

joseph guardian of the holy family

Joseph, Guardian of the Holy Family by Marlyn Evangelina Monge, fsp; illustrated by Mary Rojas (Pauline Kids). Nearly all of this board book is focused on the nativity story, so I’m calling it a Christmas book. The illustrations are adorable, and the story emphasizes Joseph’s love for God, Mary, and Jesus, and his desire to know and follow God’s will. (Review copy received from publisher.)

Picture Books

molly mcbride christmas
Enter a caption

Molly McBride and the Christmas Pageant by Jean Schoonover-Egolf. Who can’t relate to spunky Molly’s Christmas-play dilemma: She was so sure she’d get to play Mary in the pageant! But when she doesn’t get the role she wants, she doesn’t want to be in the show at all. A gentle teacher reminds Molly that Mary followed God’s plan, even when it wasn’t her plan. This story about obedience is effective without being didactic or heavy-handed, and the illustrations definitely evoke the mood of the story.

Guess Who's in the Manger

Guess Who’s in the Manger? A Christmas Story by Vicki Howie; illustrated by Julia Seal (Pauline Kids). The Christmas story told (in rhyme) from the perspective of a barn owl, high in the rafters of the stable? What’s not to love? Little ones who love to show off their skills at imitating animal noises will be fans of this book, which calls for this very ability. I wish this were a board book, because it really does appeal to the very young. (Review copy received from publisher.)

santas priority

Santa’s Priority by Tom Peterson (TAN Books). Don’t let the word “Santa” in the title throw you off. This is definitely a Catholic Christmas book, not a secular holiday story. Santa is shown stopping along his way, because the first thing we should do on Christmas is “come home to Mass and celebrate the holy Christian season.” A short rhyming read that would be a good book to enjoy together before Christmas Mass. (Review copy received from publisher.)

Bible Storybooks

While not technically “Christmas books,” both of these include the Christmas story. Bibles and Bible storybooks are wonderful gifts any time of year.

my bible gods word for me

My Bible: God’s Word for Me by Mary Martha Moss, fsp; illustrated by Augusta Currelli (Pauline Kids). Catholic Bible storybooks aren’t very easy to find. I was thrilled to see this one published this year! This gift-quality book includes a presentation page, a prayer section at the end with familiar Catholic prayers and instructions on how to pray the Rosary, and four pages of colorful maps of the Holy Land. In the introduction, the author notes that this book “will show you God’s amazing plan for the world — and for you!” Each story ends with a one-line prayer, and the stories are perfect bedtime-story length. (Review copy received from publisher.)

god gave us the bible

God Gave Us the Bible: 45 Favorite Stories for Little Ones by Lisa Tawn Bergren; art by David Hohn (WaterBrook). This book intersperses Bible stories with commentary by a family of bears and their animal friends. The Bible stories and commentary are set apart by different styles of art and varying typefaces. (Review copy received from publisher.)

Chapter Book

sisters of the last straw 5

The Case of the Christmas Tree Capers (Sisters of the Last Straw #5) by Karen Kelly Boyce (TAN Books). I’m a longtime fan of the Sisters of the Last Straw and this latest book in the series does not disappoint. It features all those favorite characters, the Sisters who each have a very human flaw and who are working — together and separately — to overcome their failings, plus the sour Mr. Lemon and the helpful farmer down the road. In this story, the Sisters open a Christmas tree lot to raise money to buy gifts for poor children in the parish. When the trees start disappearing, a few at a time each night, the Sisters set off on a mission to catch the thief, with sweet (and hilarious) results. For readers 7 and up, but would make a great read-aloud with younger children. (Review copy received from publisher.)

Story Collections

christmas around the fire

Christmas Around the Fire: Stories, Essays, & Poems for the Season of Christ’s Birth edited by Ryan N.S. Topping (TAN Books). This keepsake book is designed to be read aloud (as the title indicates, by the fire — or maybe, as we liked to do when our children were little, by the light of the Christmas tree). I remember some of the stories in this book from my own childhood (“The Selfish Giant,” “The Other Wise Man,” and the excerpt from “A Christmas Carol”) and was pleased to see them included with a medieval mystery play on the Annunciation, an essay from Pope Benedict XVI (“Advent Calls Us to Silence” — read this one first!), and poetry by Gerard Manley Hopkins and Christina Rosetti. The hardcover volume is cloth-bound with gold printing on the cover and a gold ribbon bookmark, and will be a lovely treasure for your family library. (It’s available as an ebook as well, but you’d definitely miss out on the heirloom-quality presentation if you go that route.) (Review copy received from publisher.)

gifts ctb

Gifts: Visible & Invisible by Susan Peek, Katy Huth Jones, Carolyn Astfalk, Theresa Linden, Leslea Wahl, Cynthia T. Toney, T.M. Gaouette, Corinna Turner, Cathy Gilmore. No cartoon characters “saving Christmas” by making sure presents happen, or mistletoe moments with less substance than a snowflake here. These eight stories entertain and edify the young-adult reader and satisfy that Christmas craving for something more, which can only be fulfilled by Jesus. Each story stands alone, but many are connected to other work by the authors from Catholic Teen Books. (Review copy received from publisher.)

For You or a Friend

Christmas List book cover

The Christmas List by Hillary Ibarra. Nothing lifts the spirits like a Christmas novella, and this one by Hillary Ibarra is one of the best I’ve read. It’s the beautifully told tale, inspired by true events in the author’s life, of a hardworking couple who cannot afford groceries for their family, let alone a festive Christmas meal or gifts for the children. A badly-timed job loss has left the parents stressed, but they make every effort to make Christmas special for their family — and they learn that God does, indeed, care about them. Appropriate for teens and adults.

Christmas Reads


This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given free review copies of these books where noted, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Overtipped

takeout
Pixabay (2013), CC0/PD

I was unexpectedly home alone for dinner tonight. In between working and stressing out over packing the house for next week’s renovations (we basically have to move all our stuff out, and live someplace else for the duration of the job), I figured I’d grab some takeout for a quick dinner.

There are Chinese takeout places all over, but I chose the one around the corner, because it’s around the corner so it would be faster.

I chose poorly.

I called to place my order at 5:50. I waited at least 15 minutes before heading over there, only to find 4 people waiting ahead of me and a 10-year-old running the store. They were slammed. Her mom was doing all the cooking (there are usually two adults cooking and a teenager taking phone calls and filling orders). Two smaller boys (the bigger one was no older than 7) were running around.

The little girl told me my food would be ready in a couple of minutes.

The back door to the restaurant was open; the whole family was working with coats on. I don’t know what kind of crazy had happened today, but it was definitely not business as usual. I slid into a small booth to wait for my lo mein.

I waited.

And waited.

It was after 7 PM and I still didn’t have my food. Other people left. Some politely canceled their orders before leaving, at least, so that overworked mom didn’t have to try to figure out whose food she was cooking for no reason at all.

I texted my husband and told him what was happening, concluding that if I ever got my food, I was leaving a big tip for that kid.

Because really, it was not her fault. She was working hard: running around taking orders, filling orders, going to the freezer for her mom, and manning the deep fryer (except for the time the 7-year-old did that. YIKES.). And her mom was handling multiple woks and answering the phone and keeping the two little boys in line.

Maybe I’ve used up all my anger at situations I cannot control by directing it at other situations I cannot control. I don’t know. I was cold (my feet are still not warm, and I’ve been back home for an hour now) and was working on a hunger headache but I figured that it would be worse to abandon ship and leave that mom and her little girl to try to figure out what other order to cancel, and with one fewer dinner check for the night.

So I stayed, and commiserated with a couple of other customers and expressed my admiration for the poise this kid was showing.

And at 7:25 when they finally called me up to get my food, 95 minutes after I’d ordered, I left $5 in the tip jar after paying for my $7 bowl of lo mein and a spring roll.

I can only hope that the customers behind me did the same.


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: Fall 2019 Reads

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading in September and October:

Fiction

All in Good TimeAll in Good Time by Carolyn Astfalk

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Carolyn Astfalk’s novel is packed with relatable characters who aren’t too good to be true, and that’s refreshing in the world of romance novels, where everyone’s young, successful, and great-looking. These characters struggle, and their kids make messes, so it all feels true to life. Melanie, a widow with 3 little kids, meets Brian at her son’s baseball game. Brian has sworn off dating, but he changes his mind after spending some time with Melanie. But his long-kept secret threatens their relationship, and another threat brings danger to the couple as well as Melanie’s kids. A well-told clean romance with just the right amount of suspense — and a twist I didn’t see coming.

Big Lies in a Small TownBig Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Told in split time, this is the story of two artists, both of whom were helped in some way by a recently deceased famous artist. Morgan gets out of jail on parole on the condition that she restore a badly damaged mural in time for a gallery opening. She has a lot to do to put her life back together, but can’t help becoming intrigued by what she can find out about Anna, the mural’s original artist who added disturbing elements to the mural at the last minute. The author intertwines the stories beautifully, with just the right amount of plot twists and suspense. (Netgalley review)

SourdoughSourdough by Robin Sloan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you’ve ever baked with sourdough, this book will make sense. Lois, a Silicon Valley robot programmer in a soulless job, is given a sourdough starter when the immigrants who run a takeout business she patronizes return to Europe. As she learns how to bake with it, she discovers that this starter is alive in ways others are not — and this discovery turns her career on its head. Beautifully written.

The Overdue Life of Amy BylerThe Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An engaging cast of characters populates this novel about a school librarian whose almost-ex reappears after 3 years and wants back into her life. Given the opportunity to visit NY for a professional conference, she heads to the city on a journey of rediscovery.

Appalachian Serenade (Appalachian Blessings, #0.5)Appalachian Serenade by Sarah Loudin Thomas

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Delilah’s return to her hometown as a widow means the end of all her dreams to be a mother. As World War II comes to an end, she settles in the small West Virginia Town and finds a job at the local store, then discovers herself in an unexpected competition for the affections of the storekeeper. A sweet novella about two people suffering different kinds of grief.

The Union Street Bakery (Union Street Bakery #1)The Union Street Bakery by Mary Ellen Taylor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Daisy McCrae, newly unemployed, returns home to rescue her family’s bakery before the business fails, she discovers a few surprises: the ghosts in the attic, the ghost of an old relationship, and the journal she inherits from a former customer who holds the key to the truth about Daisy’s past. A good story, but wrapped up just a little too neatly.

The Schoolhouse: A Hickory Grove NovelThe Schoolhouse: A Hickory Grove Novel by Elizabeth Bromke

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An enjoyable, if totally farfetched, story of second chances. Becky returns to her hometown after nearly 20 years with no idea how she’ll support herself and send money to her son who, improbably, is a student at Notre Dame. Becky wants to purchase a tumbledown schoolhouse on her grandparents’ property and turn it into a bookstore — but has no capital for the project. Enter her high-school sweetheart, who works for the school district and is tasked with arranging for the demolition of that schoolhouse.

My Stubborn HeartMy Stubborn Heart by Becky Wade

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kate takes a sabbatical from her job, where she’s burnt out working in social services for at-risk kids, to help her grandmother restore an old family home and inventory its collection of antiques. Their contractor, a former hockey pro grieving the loss of his wife, seems attracted to her, but is always holding back. Grandma and her friends lend comic relief to the story with their matchmaking attempts. It’s a good read, if a shallow one (everyone’s gorgeous, the contractor is super rich, the old home is filled with ridiculously valuable antiques – none of it’s junk). Definitely falls into the “escape read” category.

Someplace Familiar (Laurel Cove Romance #1)Someplace Familiar by >Teresa Tysinger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Livy returns to her hometown to refurbish a family home and sell an impressive collection of antique furniture, she finds that her grandmother’s friends are busy trying to set her up with the contractor who’s restoring the house. She’s not looking for a relationship, and he’s a former hockey star grieving the loss of his wife. One of those romances where everyone’s successful, wealthy, thin, and gorgeous, but an enjoyable read.

Christmas (It’s never too early!)

The Christmas List (A Girl Called Hoodoo Book 1)The Christmas List by Hillary Ibarra

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nothing lifts the spirits like a Christmas novella, and this one by Hillary Ibarra is one of the best I’ve read. It’s the beautifully told tale, inspired by true events in the author’s life, of a hardworking couple who cannot afford groceries for their family, let alone a festive Christmas meal or gifts for the children. A badly-timed job loss has left the parents stressed, but they make every effort to make Christmas special for their family — and they learn that God does, indeed, care about them.

YA/Children’s

Ella's Promise (Great War Great Love #3)Ella’s Promise by Ellen Gable

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This standalone novel concludes the “Great War Great Love” series, and I’m sorry to see it end. As a whole, the series has been a fascinating look at a time period we don’t read about much. Ella Neumann, the daughter of Germans who emigrated to the USA long before the war, is a volunteer nurse in France. Having been a medical student at home before the war, she hopes her experience will land her a coveted place as a surgical nurse, but her supervisor doesn’t trust her because of her ethnic background, and gives her the least-desired jobs. Ella’s encounter with a prisoner of war and an enemy officer, coupled with her ability to speak German, put her in danger as well as allowing her to help others in unexpected ways. With edge-of-the-seat suspense, the story will captivate teen and adult readers alike. (Advance review copy received from author.)

Gifts: Visible & InvisibleGifts: Visible & Invisible by Susan Peek, Katy Huth Jones, Carolyn Astfalk, Theresa Linden, Leslea Wahl, Cynthia T. Toney, T.M. Gaouette, Corinna Turner, Cathy Gilmore

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

No cartoon characters “saving Christmas” by making sure presents happen, or mistletoe moments with less substance than a snowflake here. These 8 stories entertain and edify the young-adult reader and satisfy that Christmas craving for something more, which can only be fulfilled by Jesus. Each story stands alone, but many are connected to other work by the authors from Catholic Teen Books. (Advance Reader Copy provided by Catholic Teen Books)

Nonfiction

9781627853385

Woman of Worth: Prayers and Reflections for Women Inspired by the Book of Proverbs by Melanie Rigney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An encouraging book for women that underscores their value, no matter what their vocation, age, or state in life. Melanie discusses the virtues behind the ideal woman presented in Proverbs 31. In the Introduction, the author notes, “maybe it was progress that I thought my relationship with Jesus did make me a woman of worth.” In each of these 20 chapters, the author examines a verse or two from Proverbs 31, offering a personal reflection and meditation on the virtue, a brief profile of a saint who is a model of that virtue, three questions for discussion or personal journaling, and a prayer. (Advance review copy provided by author)

When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny PeopleWhen Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People by Jeannie Gaffigan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When you read When Life Gives You Pears, you can expect the medical details, the celebrity bio, and the funny. And you can also expect a powerful testimony of the role faith played in Jeannie Gaffigan’s life and in her recovery. In this book, she candidly shares it all: her fears; the details of her surgery, treatment, and recovery; how the whole experience impacted her outlook on the world; the role faith played in her life before, during, and after her illness.
(Review copy received from publisher)

61 Minutes to a Miracle: The True Story of a Family's Devotion61 Minutes to a Miracle: The True Story of a Family’s Devotion by Bonnie L. Engstrom

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Most people who pick up 61 Minutes to a Miracle already know how the story turns out. But the spoiler in the book’s title won’t ruin the experience of reading Bonnie Engstrom’s riveting story of the miracle that opened the door not only to life for her child but also to the beatification of Fulton J. Sheen.
Read my full review.


Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

Where noted, books are review copies. If that is not indicated, I either purchased the book myself or borrowed it from the library.

Follow my Goodreads reviews for the full list of what I’ve read recently (even the duds!)

Visit today’s #OpenBook post to join the linkup or just get some great ideas about what to read! You’ll find it at Carolyn Astfalk’s A Scribbler’s Heart and at CatholicMom.com!

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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On Barb’s Bookshelf: Advent 2019 Devotionals, plus Prayer Books and Journals

Advent 2019 Devotionals plus Prayer Books and Journals (FranciscanMom.com)
Image credit: By Daria Shevtsova (2018), Unsplash.com, CC0/PD. Text added by author.

With Advent only one short month away, this is the perfect time to choose a new devotional, prayer book, or journal. Whether you’re looking for a seasonal booklet or something you can use year ’round, there are plenty of new options available. Here are some of my new favorites.

Advent Devotionals

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The Living Gospel: Daily Devotions for Advent 2019 (Ave Maria Press) was penned by four Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart. Keep your Bible handy as you read these devotions, each based on the Gospel reading for the day. After a short reflection on the Gospel, the writers offer concrete ways to live the message they find in Scripture. Each day’s entry ends with a brief prayer. Don’t skip the Introduction — it’s a wonderfully encouraging set of tips that we can all use as we ponder how to keep a spiritual focus in an increasingly secular season.

HB9

Let the Heavens be Glad Advent Devotions: Inspiration from Henri J.M. Nouwen (Creative Communications for the Parish). The Advent reflections in this booklet are not based on the Scriptures for the day, but instead begin with excerpts from some of Nouwen’s inspirational writings. Following these are short reflections and prayers. This booklet would work well for individual prayer, or it could be used by a married couple or prayer group.

Daily Devotionals

There’s no law that says you must begin reading a daily devotional on January 1! Jump on in anytime — just flip to the current date and begin from there. Both of these are gift-quality books.

Jesus Speaking

Jesus Speaking: Heart to Heart with the King by Gabrielle Bossis (Pauline Books & Media). This is one of those devotionals that’s as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside. The hardcover book is a beautiful teal color embossed with the title and an image of the Sacred Heart. And I don’t know what kind of paper this cover is made of, but it’s so smooth and almost soft in my hands. A built-in gold ribbon bookmark will help you keep your place. Do you think you don’t have time for a daily devotional? You can definitely manage this one. Each day’s reflection is only a few short sentences long, beginning with a verse or two from Scripture and ending with a prayer prompt.

who do you say that I am cover

Who Do You Say I Am? Daily Reflections on the Bible, the Saints, and the Answer that is Christ by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan (Image Books) is a full-size hardcover with a one-page (often a full page) reflection per day, beginning with a Scripture verse. I enjoy Cardinal Dolan’s down-to-earth style; he writes like he speaks. The tone is never academic, complicated, or stuffy. Last week on his radio show, Conversations with Cardinal Dolan, the Cardinal noted that the book is made up of excerpts from homilies, speeches, and columns — all of which he wrote himself, because he feels uneasy preaching or teaching in someone else’s words. I confess: I have a hard time putting this book down after reading only one reflection. It’s a wonderful mix of personal stories, deep devotion, meditations on the Gospels, saintly inspirations, and nuggets of historical facts. (And if you love the Rosary, you’ll see it coming up again and again in this book!)

Prayers, Retreats, and a Journal

9781627853385

Melanie Rigney’s Woman of Worth: Prayers and Reflections for Women Inspired by the Book of Proverbs (Twenty-Third Publications) is an encouraging book for women that underscores their value, no matter what their vocation, age, or state in life. Melanie discusses the virtues behind the ideal woman presented in Proverbs 31. In the Introduction, the author notes, “maybe it was progress that I thought my relationship with Jesus did make me a woman of worth.” In each of these 20 chapters, the author examines a verse or two from Proverbs 31, offering a personal reflection and meditation on the virtue, a brief profile of a saint who is a model of that virtue, three questions for discussion or personal journaling, and a prayer. This book would make a wonderful Advent spiritual read. I read it, a bit at a time, in the Adoration Chapel.

abide in the heart of christ

Take a DIY retreat for Advent — or before Advent — based on St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. Joe Laramie, SJ, has put together a 10-day personal retreat in Abide in the Heart of Christ (Ave Maria Press). “You and I may feel intimidated by these spiritual giants,” the author notes, “but they can become great models for us because they help us to realize that God works through our spiritual talents and abilities” (68). You can do the retreat in a single 10-day span, or pick one day per week for 10 weeks, or whatever combination works for you: it’s designed “to help busy people grow closer to Christ” (7).

holy angels

Holy Angels Prayer Book is the latest in the Catholic Treasury series from Pauline Books & Media. This small prayer book, like the others in the series, boasts a leatherette cover, gilt-edged pages, and a bound-in ribbon bookmark. I had no idea there were so many ways to pray for the intervention of the angels! There’s even a Rosary of the Angels, novenas to each Archangel and to the Guardian Angels, chaplets, and individual prayers. For those interested in learning more about the angels, there’s even a handy list of Scripture references to angels. This purse-sized book would make a beautiful gift.

my real story journal

Another excellent gift (or gift-to-yourself) book is Becky Thompson’s new journal, My Real Story: One Year to Record, Reflect, and Remember (WaterBrook Press). This undated keepsake journal can be started at any time. It offers a modern, bullet journal feel, with both dot-grid and ruled pages. Throughout the book are some journal prompts and anecdotes, plus pages with three different headings:

  • To be honest, this is how I really feel today
  • For the record, these are the moments I don’t want to forget
  • Give thanks in all circumstances: 3 things I’m thankful for today

This pretty journal offers plenty of room to reflect on how God is working in your life, even in the little things.

Advent 2019 Devotionals plus Prayer Books and Journals (FranciscanMom.com)
Image credit: By Daria Shevtsova (2018), Unsplash.com, CC0/PD

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given free review copies of these books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Theology of Home

Theology of Home review
Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

I wanted this to be a lifestyle book.

We’re in the planning stages right now of updating our home’s interior. Over the summer we replaced every door in the house. Now we’re choosing flooring and paint covers and preparing for the removal of the 1970s paneling that covers nearly every interior wall.

We’ve lived here for 21 years. After the first year, my husband primed and painted all that paneling, turning the house from a dark dungeon into a warmer, brighter space. But baby gates have come and gone, and the paint bears the battle scars of vacuum cleaners pushed by hands that were hurried or unskilled (or both), not to mention countless games of Nerf basketball.

It’s time.

Only one of our kids still lives here, and he’s 17. We’re past the point of baby gates, outlet covers, and plastic light sabers. The last Nerf basketball hoop went when we replaced the closet door where it hung.

20 years ago, we made our decisions about wall color and floor covering in an entirely utilitarian fashion. We were in a hurry. We had two young children. But now, we have time. We’d love to get this done now, but it’s going to be several weeks before the work begins, and the only thing we’ve chosen so far is the hard flooring that will replace most of the ancient wall-to-wall carpet in here.

And that’s OK, because now I have time to read Theology of Home: Finding the Eternal in the Everyday.

theology_of_home_cover

As I said right up front, this new book from TAN Books is not a lifestyle book. If you only look at the pictures (and Kim Baile’s photography is beautiful), you might get that impression, and it’s certainly fun to page through the book and enjoy the pictures.

But this book is not going to help me choose the paint color that best complements my San Damiano cross.

This book will help me daydream about what I want my home to be, what I want it to represent, what I want it to say to my family as well as to the friends and acquaintances who visit.

My house is never going to look like something they’d feature in a lifestyle book. The coffee table in my living room is strewn with (unread) newspapers and a permanent collection of church hymnals and the portable music stand we use when our parish folk group rehearses there. The family room is littered with video-game controllers, and mismatched afghans spill out of the toy box I had as a child, which now holds blankets for visiting teenagers to use when they sleep over. And we certainly don’t have the budget for high-end accessories.

That’s our lifestyle. We’re good with that.

Theology of Home invites us to celebrate what we love about our homes — not the paint color, or the comfy couch, or the carefully curated light-switch plates. Instead, authors Carrie Gress, Noelle Mering, and Megan Schrieber muse on the meanings behind the spaces in our homes as they invite us into their own stories of home and share episodes from the lives of the saints in which home figures prominently.

Theology of Home review
Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: 61 Minutes to a Miracle

Most people who pick up 61 Minutes to a Miracle already know how the story turns out. But the spoiler in the book’s title won’t ruin the experience of reading Bonnie Engstrom’s riveting story of the miracle that opened the door not only to life for her child but also to the beatification of Fulton J. Sheen.

61 Minutes

Sheen’s intercession is credited with not only baby James’ survival after he spent more than an hour without breathing or a heartbeat immediately following his birth – but also the child’s development without the ill effects medical professionals expect after extended time without oxygen at birth.

Bonnie Engstrom confides, at the beginning of the book, that she did not have a lifelong devotion to the storied archbishop from her home diocese, whose TV appearances were must-see Catholic TV in the mid-20th century. I found the story of her growing devotion to Sheen to be approachable and inspiring, underscoring the fact that first impressions don’t always tell the full story.

Much of this book centers on James Fulton Engstrom’s birth story, and Engstrom doesn’t hold back on the details there. If you’re the squeamish type, like I am, you’ll want to know that right up front. But even with that sensitivity issue, I was never discouraged from reading the rest of the book, and I’m glad I powered through that difficult, intense section.

61 Minutes to a Miracle is an inside look at the details of a miracle as well as the canonization process.

Barb's Book shelf blog title


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

#OpenBook: Summer 2019

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading this summer:

Fiction

BecalmedBecalmed by Normandie Fischer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tadie co-owns a successful business, is a jewelry artist in her own right, and has an historic home and a sailboat. She’s loving life, and falling for the widower (and, even more, for his young, smart, independent little girl, Jilly) — but her controlling ex is back in town and wants her back. The ending wraps up way too neatly, but Jilly is a terrific character and deserves her own middle-grade story.

A 5K and a KissA 5K and a Kiss by Maddie Evans

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You don’t have to be a runner to enjoy this novel – all you need is an appreciation for well-written banter and likable characters. Maddie Evans doesn’t put her characters in unrealistic situations: There are no billionaires, no 25-year-olds with their own thriving business bankrolled by their parents’ cash. These people struggle, and their struggles are what the books are about. In this story, Aileen finds help as she grieves the loss of her sister in an unlikely place: the local running club. This is more than a sweet romance – it’s a friendship story, too.

A Tease and a Trail RunA Tease and a Trail Run by Maddie Evans

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great story! Charlotte (Charlie) takes refuge at her aunt’s home in Maine after she breaks her engagement to the guy who’s been cheating on her, only weeks before the wedding. Brandon (a peripheral character in “A 5K and a Kiss” and a childhood friend) helps her get reacquainted with the people in the town she used to visit every summer. As a family crisis diverts Charlie’s attention and a job crisis threatens Brandon’s livelihood — and the sister who depends on his rent — the two begin to fall for each other, but the sudden return of Charlie’s ex threatens to mess everything up. I’m enjoying the members of the running club who populate the books in this series; they’re a terrific community of very diverse people who bicker like siblings but always have each other’s back. (Dare I say I’m jealous of that community they’ve formed?)

The Story Keeper (Carolina Heirlooms, #2)The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Newly hired at her dream publishing job, Jen discovers a piece of a decaying manuscript on her desk — but it’s unsigned, and once she reads it, she knows she has to figure out who’s behind it. Doing so will require that she revisit her home town, a place she’d hoped to leave behind forever. This book contains the chapters of the manuscript that Jen finds in various places, and those are the strongest part of the novel.

The Father's SonThe Father’s Son by Jim Sano

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Boston just after the clergy sex-abuse scandals broke in 2002, a successful businessman works through his own childhood abandonment issues and marital failure with the help of a priest. A lot of moral instruction and apologetics was built into the novel, which clocks in at 441 pages, and that seemed to slow down the advancement of the plot and add an element that was didactic, if not preachy. Recommended for readers struggling with the abuse scandals and Church teaching on marriage.

Where the Fire Falls (Vintage National Parks, #2)Where the Fire Falls by Karen Barnett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Painter Olivia pins her career hopes on a trip to Yosemite, underwritten by a wealthy patron who seeks to control her art. Her protector, National Parks guide Clark must decide if he wants to return to the ministry or if his true calling is as a park ranger. The author masterfully sets the scene in Yosemite, as both Olivia and Clark must deal with their pasts, both victims of other people’s bad choices.

Just One KissJust One Kiss by Courtney Walsh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve enjoyed the other Harbor Pointe stories, so this installment was a welcome read. Carly’s teen son Jaden has begun to turn his life around as he pursues competitive skiing, but health issues threaten to sideline him permanently. Carly, a nurse, puts her professional reputation and career on the line as she advocates for her son.

The Color of a Memory (The Color of Heaven, #5)The Color of a Memory by Julianne MacLean

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Audrey is sure her firefighter husband is a player from the moment they met, but she eventually decides to trust him and marries him. After his line-of-duty death, she meets a mysterious woman who claims to have secrets about her husband, and she once again regrets ever trusting him.

Bridge of Scarlet LeavesBridge of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maddie, a violinist whose brother is serving in World War II, secretly dates Lane, the son of Japanese immigrants. They elope on the eve of the Pearl Harbor attack, and discover that not only has the world changed overnight, but they’re expected to be enemies. Lane’s family is sent to Manzanar, and Maddie gives up her dream of attending Juilliard to follow her husband there.

Sold on a MondaySold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1931, Americans were making impossible choices in order to feed their families. Journalist Ellis Reed spies 2 children seated on a porch under a “children for sale” sign and takes a picture — not meant for publication — that winds up in the paper, leading to unintended consequences for himself, secretary Lillian Palmer, the children in the photo, and two families caught in the middle of unexpected deceptions.

Wildflower Hope (The Wildflower House #2)Wildflower Hope by Grace Greene

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this sequel to Wildflower Heart, Kara struggles to move past her father’s death and renovate the historic home he’d recently purchased into an artists’ retreat. At the same time, she must decide whether she can let go of the guy who’s just moved across the country for his job — and let new love in. Kara is more likable in this book than in the first in the series.

YA/Children’s

Perilous Days (Brave Hearts Book 1)Perilous Days by Kathryn Griffin Swegart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Packed with a cast of actual historical characters, this novel for middle-school readers is not just another Holocaust book. It’s the story of a reluctant young conscript into the Nazi army who discovers that his Catholic faith and Hitler’s philosophies are incompatible, and whose family has to entrust the care of his handicapped brother to a convent in order to protect him from the Nazis’ eugenic policies. Felix finds help in surprising and mysterious ways as he works to rescue wounded soldiers on the battlefield.

Martyrs (Brave Hearts Book 2)Martyrs by Kathryn Griffin Swegart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This historical novel tells the story of Fr. Sebastian Rale, a missionary priest in New England during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. It is a window into a time and place not treated in detail in the history books, and into a real-life missionary whose love for the Lord and conviction about his mission will inspire the reader.
One caveat: this book does contain graphic scenes of war, torture, and martyrdom. It is not for the sensitive reader. It’s labeled for ages 10 to 14, but I’d recommend that parents read it first, for this reason.

Waiting with ElmerWaiting with Elmer by Deanna K. Klingel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Willy, a homeless teenager with a criminal father and his own burden of guilt to bear, winds up in Waitnsee, an unusual town where a man named Elmer mentors him, leading him on a journey of growth, faith, and reconciliation. This book, set in the Depression era, features a wonderful cast of characters, including Father Flanagan of Boys Town.

Nonfiction

All for Her: The Autobiography of Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C.All for Her: The Autobiography of Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C. by Patrick Peyton C.S.C.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Peyton tells his own life story, from humble beginnings in an impoverished Irish town to the founding and development of Family Rosary and Family Theater Productions. I was struck not only by Peyton’s deep faith and his devotion to the Blessed Mother, but also his ability to multitask and get things done long before the internet made instant communication possible. This new edition of Peyton’s 1973 autobiography features larger type plus a foreword and epilogue.

Handy Little Guide to the Holy SpiritHandy Little Guide to the Holy Spirit by Michelle Jones Schroeder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Michelle Schroeder brings humor and a personal touch to her treatment of a topic that’s, let’s face it, kind of mysterious to many of us. This booklet from Our Sunday Visitor is designed to help us both understand and forge a connection to the Holy Spirit. Beginning with a discussion of the Trinity (in non-theological, approachable terms), Michelle notes that we don’t just need to know about the Holy Spirit — we need to know Him (14). That’s true of all three Persons of the Trinity, of course, but making a connection to the Holy Spirit doesn’t always seem as intuitive as connecting to God the Father and Jesus, the Son.
Read my full review. (Review copy received from publisher.)

Day by Day with Saint Faustina: 365 ReflectionsDay by Day with Saint Faustina: 365 Reflections by Susan Tassone

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Susan Tassone, well-known for her other writing on Purgatory, Adoration, and Divine Mercy, has taken St. Faustina’s Diary and made it accessible in a new daily devotional from Sophia Institute Press. This book is a page-per-day devotional that bridges the gap between the spiritual and the practical. While the monthly sections of the book are not organized by theme, Susan’s choice of readings for each day of the year are often informed by the liturgical calendar. Each day’s reflection is made up of three parts: a quote from the Diary, a short reflection (just a few sentences) that’s instructional and also a call to action or sometimes a quote from Scripture, and a simple prayer to wrap it up. Read my full review. Review copy received from publisher.

Fifteen Spirituals That Will Change Your LifeFifteen Spirituals That Will Change Your Life by Henry L. Carrigan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading Fifteen Spirituals That Will Change Your Life is like taking a very specific, self-paced music appreciation course. You’ll gain a deep knowledge of 15 beloved spirituals and a new appreciation of their history and message. This is a book you’ll want to read with music by your side.
Read my full review. Review copy received from publisher.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect TimingWhen: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had no idea there was science behind time management, but it all makes sense thanks to Daniel Pink’s book. He’s gathered research from multiple fields to support conclusions such as: students work better after research (any teacher could have told him this), people generally have 2 creative peak times per day, and singing in a group is good for you. A fascinating book! This is one I’ll want to read again.


Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

Where noted, books are review copies. If that is not indicated, I either purchased the book myself or borrowed it from the library.

Follow my Goodreads reviews for the full list of what I’ve read recently (even the duds!)

Visit this month’s #OpenBook post to join the linkup or just get some great ideas about what to read! You’ll find it at Carolyn Astfalk’s A Scribbler’s Heart and at CatholicMom.com!


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

“Know Thyself”: Because One-Size Organizing Doesn’t Fit All

Finally, an organizing book for the rest of us: the ones who look organized on the outside … until you open doors or drawers, and the ones whose stuff is all over the place. In Know Thyself: The Imperfectionist’s Guide to Sorting Your Stuff, Lisa Lawmaster Hess has created a do-able guide to embracing your unique combination of personal and organizing styles and working with them instead of against them.

know thyself-a

I’ve followed Lisa’s writing on organizing for years. Through it, I’ve learned that my personal style is “I need to see it.” We’ve talked together about my wish for an array of clipboards on my office wall, and last summer that wish became a reality. These clipboards, with a fluid arrangement that changes as the contents of the clipboards are switched out, help me keep on top of deadlines for my freelance work — and go a long way toward keeping piles of papers off my desktop.

Barb Szyszkiewicz clipboard wall organizing
My office “wall of clipboards.” Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

Parents: Don’t miss the chapter on helping kids get organized for school. Lisa is a retired elementary-school counselor turned college psychology instructor, so she has plenty of experience with students of all ages. And I know that her advice works: When I was a long-term substitute teacher for second grade in 2014, one of my students just could not keep track of his pencils and eraser. He’d leave them on top of his desk, and they’d roll off. Or he’d put them inside the desk, where that little indentation was supposed to keep them handy, but they didn’t stay inside his desk either. The pencil case he’d been required to purchase? That was shoved into the back of the desk, because finding it, opening it, inserting or removing items, and putting it back were way too many steps.

Lisa’s suggestions to think about how we work led me to the dollar store, where a 2-pack of drawer organizers was easy to find. One morning I brought the little bins to school and quietly offered one to my student, telling him that this was a special place where he could keep his pencils and eraser, so they wouldn’t fall on the floor. It didn’t work perfectly, but it was much better, and he could spend more time doing his classwork and less time looking for his runaway supplies. It’s a small thing, but small things matter, and I’m glad I was able to help my student without embarrassing him.

Lisa’s positive “you CAN!” attitude toward organizing contrasts with prescriptive “you MUST do it THIS way” methods. In Know Thyself, you’ll find tools to help you think about how you use and store your stuff — so you can make a conclusion about what will work best for you. That’s the only way to make sustainable change; someone else’s method is never as good for you as it is for someone else.

KNOW THYSELF book review Franciscanmom.com
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Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Read and Listen: “Fifteen Spirituals That Will Change Your Life”

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Fifteen Spirituals That Will Change Your Life by guitarist and music critic Henry L. Carrigan Jr. is a book you’ll want to read with music by your side.

Fortunately, publisher Paraclete Press has assembled a playlist on Spotify of multiple versions of the 15 spirituals Carrigan highlights in this book. It’s easy to open up Spotify on your phone or tablet, cue up this playlist, and play different artists’ renditions of the songs as Carrigan details the interpretation and instrumentation of each one.

Read. Pause. Listen. Repeat.

Reading Fifteen Spirituals That Will Change Your Life is like taking a very specific, self-paced music appreciation course. You’ll gain a deep knowledge of 15 beloved spirituals and a new appreciation of their history and message.

15 Spirituals

In addition to describing the songs’ performances by well-known musicians, Carrigan delves into each song’s history, discussing the time period in which a particular song was written and details of the composer’s life. Readers will learn about the theology behind the songs as well, with an intensive look at the spirituals’ poetic structure, verse by verse. What are we saying when we sing these words?

Carrigan also shares moments from his own life and depictions of well-known performances of some of these spirituals.

Reflections to end each chapter offer questions for discussion, prayer, journaling, or meditation.

As I began reading this book, I was called to sing at a funeral at my parish. One of the requested hymns was “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” which I’d heard before but had never sung. Reading Carrigan’s line-by-line analysis of this spiritual helped reinforce the message of the song: joyous praise amid sorrow. It helped me better prepare to sing a new-to-me song at the funeral of someone I knew.


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.