statue of angel

New from Magnificat: Nine Days with Saint Michael

We celebrate the Feast of Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Rafael on September 29. This is the perfect time to begin a novena to the original prayer warrior, St. Michael the Archangel. Magnificat has just released Nine Days with Saint Michael, a beautiful novena of prayers for spiritual protection.

It takes a spiritual battle to be good, a battle we fight with Heaven’s help. (4)

 

Nine Days with Saint Michael

The prayers and meditations for each of the nine days focus on one aspect of St. Michael the Archangel, from his name meaning “Who is like God?” to his dignity as an archangel and Prince of the Heavenly Host, to his rebuke of the devil and affirmation of his own promise to serve God always, to his heavenly worship and the battle against the dragon (as detailed in Revelation), to his service of God at the time of our judgment.

Each day’s novena entry is structured as follows:

  • Sacred art
  • Introduction
  • Hymn
  • Scripture (the reading is included in full, so you won’t need to juggle your prayer book and Bible)
  • Meditation
  • Intercession: entrust St. Michael to bring your special intention to God at this time
  • Our Father
  • Intercession of Mary, Queen of Angels
  • Closing Prayer
  • St. Michael Prayer

Bonus content in this book includes the Litany of St. Michael and the Chaplet of St. Michael, so this book will be handy to keep around long after you finish praying the novena.

The print edition of Nine Days with Saint Michael is a lovely little book, with heavy, glossy paper that complements the sacred art (a different artist’s depiction of St. Michael, in worship and in battle, accompanies the meditation for each day). It’s a good value for the $5.99 cover price. An interior view is pictured below.

 

interior spread from Nine Days with Saint Michael

 

Nine Days with Saint Michael is available at Magnificat.com. Bulk pricing is available. A Kindle version is available on Amazon.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images: Canva; Magnificat.com, all rights reserved.
This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author.

Back-to-School Special: Amy Cattapan’s New Book for Teachers

Just in time for the beginning of the school year, Ave Maria Press has released Amy J. Cattapan’s first nonfiction book, Sweet Jesus, Is It June Yet? 10 Ways the Gospels Can Help You Combat Teacher Burnout and Rediscover Your Passion for TeachingWritten for new and veteran teachers alike, this book is the perfect read at the beginning of the school year, offering Bible-based strategies teachers can use to battle discouragement, stress, and burnout.

 

As a fellow member and volunteer for the Catholic Writers Guild, I’ve known Amy for several years. She’s a middle-school teacher and author of two novels for middle- and high-school students, a Dame of Malta, an avid runner, and (in her free time?) recently completed an Ed.D. This summer, Amy organized the Catholic Writers Guild conference, a hybrid event with in-person and online speakers and attendees. Amy also hosts a YouTube channel featuring the “Cath-Lit Live!” video series, in which she interviews Catholic authors about their newly released books. Amy is energetic (as you can see from this list of accomplishments) and always ready to share what she’s learned with others. You can learn more about her work at AJCattapan.com

 

 

It was my pleasure to interview Amy about her newest book.

Is Sweet Jesus, Is It June Yet? for Catholic school teachers only?

The initial audience for the book was Catholic school teachers, but I’ve found that DREs and catechists are also relating to it, as well as other Christians who work in education. Basically, anyone who reads the Bible and does some kind of teaching can appreciate the connections between the Gospel stories and the work that they do.

 

How can homeschooling moms (or dads) benefit from this book?

Homeschooling parents can benefit in much the same ways that classroom teachers and catechists do. It can help them to focus on why they decided to homeschool in the first place, as well as find guidance for how Jesus can be a role model for them as educators as well.

 

What’s your advice for teachers who feel that admitting feelings of teacher burnout means that they’re not good teachers?

Even people who love their jobs and are very successful often go through periods of burnout. This is why we need to take breaks from our work and then come back refreshed. Feeling burned out is a normal reaction to caring about the job you do. If we are feeling burned out, it’s an indication that we’ve been pouring out heart and soul into the job. While it’s great that so many teachers care so much about doing a great job, we also need to remember that it’s necessary to step back and “fill our own cups” whenever we feeling like we are running on empty. Don’t forget how many times Jesus had to go away to a quiet place! If He needed rest and quiet, then so do we!

 

In one of my favorite chapters, “Jesus Knew When (and How Far) to Bend the Rules,” you mention the destructive power of negative attitudes. When I was teaching, I stopped eating lunch in the teachers’ lounge because of the negative attitudes among some other teachers. While I cut myself off from the cynicism, I also missed opportunities for sharing ideas and getting help. Is there a better way to handle that kind of situation?

Excellent question! I know many teachers who avoid the lounge; sometimes it is necessary to do that. However, that shouldn’t mean we isolate ourselves entirely. Try to find the coworkers with whom you can have constructive conversations. Seek out times that you are free, and make a point of connecting with that person(s) regularly — perhaps during a mutual planning period or even a few minutes before or after school. Also find ways to connect with teachers outside of your own school. For example, go to teacher conferences, talk to friends who are teachers at other schools, and participate in informal professional development opportunities, like the #CatholicEdChat discussions that happen on Twitter the first and third Saturdays of each month.

 

It’s providential that your book has been released just as teachers are beginning a second full school year with the challenges of pandemic restrictions. Which chapter would you recommend to teachers who are feeling anxious about this?

I would recommend chapters 8 and 10. Chapter 8 is called “Jesus Took Challenges in Stride.” We’ve had a lot of challenges over the last 18 months. Jesus can teach us how to handle them with grace. Chapter 10 is called “Jesus Knew When to Stop and Just Let It Be.” There is so much we can’t control during a pandemic. Jesus can show us how to let go of unrealistic expectations and focus on what we can do.

This book makes a great teacher gift!

Sweet Jesus, Is It June Yet? is available from the publisher, Ave Maria Press, on Amazon, and wherever you purchase Catholic books. If you’re interested in ordering multiple books for all your kids’ teachers, contact Amy about a discount code for bulk orders! (Don’t wait until Christmas to share this book with the teachers you know. They need it now.)


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Author photo courtesy of Amy J. Cattapan
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book by the publisher, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

girl copying off boy's paper in school

Time to Stop Looking

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” (Matthew 5:29)

This pretty much sums up Instagram for me, some days.

I like some things on Instagram. One of my kids shares photos of mountains he’s climbed (though sometimes the views are a little scary for me), and another posts little videos of her silly cat. I like the graphics with encouraging phrases. I like the prayers. I like the pictures of delicious dinners (and cookies) with links in bio to recipes.

What I don’t like so much is my reaction to the other stuff on Instagram. Since Instagram has become a replacement blogging platform, it’s populated by women who fill it with their perfect homes, perfect furniture, perfect flowers, perfect perfection. Their heartfelt 800-word articles accompany these illustrations.

“So beautiful!”

“Such an inspiration!”

“So vulnerable!”

“So wise!”

The comments go on and on, and I’m over here feeling left out in all that beauty and all that sentiment.

 

girl cheating off a boy's paper at school

 

We had our house repainted in December 2019 and the pictures are still not back on the walls. I had this grand idea that I wanted to re-frame them in all the same frames (I probably saw something like that on Instagram), but was only able to find half of the sizes I need when I went shopping for those in January, and that project has simply stalled out. That pile of new frames and the pile twice as high of old pictures? There’s no beauty there.

Maybe if I spent less time on social media and more time cleaning my house, it would look like something out of a magazine too (oh, who am I kidding – it’s never going to look like that, but it would look better for sure).

Maybe if I got off the couch and used my phone to play an exercise video instead of tormenting myself with other people’s salads and waistlines, I’d find my waist once again.

And I guess I’m just not the sentimental sort, but I’m just about driven to tears here by all the moms who are weeping on Instagram about back-to-school, especially those sending children off to college. Maybe it’ll hit me after my kid actually leaves for college, since he’s my last one, but at this point I’m just glad for the prospect that he’ll get to go live at college at all – homecolleging is not the best way to go, especially when you’re a science major. But I see all the moms lamenting their babies leaving home and wonder what in the world is wrong with me.

My coping mechanism is to “keep it real” and post something self-deprecating (or – worse – something that makes someone else in my house look bad) because this way I shame myself before someone else gets the chance. I do this way too much for that to be considered a healthy strategy.

Is my right eye causing me to sin? When it’s looking at Instagram, yes, I think it is. I find myself giving in to envy about other people’s homes, stuff, appearance, and emotions. I don’t resent that they have what I don’t, but I wallow in self-pity because I don’t have what they do.

I think it’s time for me to take action in two ways.

I need to go to confession. And I need to start using the unfollow and mute functions on social media until I can have a better attitude toward the total strangers whose carefully curated lives I’m comparing to my own, and falling short every time.

 

sad woman looking at cell phone


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images: Canva Pro

bookshelf with Catholic fiction titles

On My Bookshelf: Adoration for Beginners (and everyone else)

Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Eucharistic Adoration is much more than a guidebook about a particular type of devotion. This new book by Merridith Frediani, published by Our Sunday Visitor, begins with an explanation about Adoration that is definitely not for beginners only. Not every parish or Adoration Chapel offers advice or instruction on customary prayer practices associated with this devotion, so you’ll find that this book fills in those gaps in a helpful way.

Draw Close to Jesus cover

Merridith explains in the Introduction to this book why it’s addressed specifically to women:

In adoration we approach God as women and pause in these tasks to acknowledge that God calls us in the deep core of our hearts. He wants us to come to him and rest. We do not need to bring anything. He knows the world is pulling at us and can be overwhelming. He knows we make mistakes, and he keeps inviting. When we come to him, we open ourselves to the one who loves us most deeply. (12)

I like to bring a journal to Adoration with me, and the short reflections in the middle of this book are perfect jumping-off places for spiritual journaling. Each reflection is brief (about two pages in length) and most are based on Scripture. At the end of the reflection, there is a “to do” item — not one that’s going to stress you out by adding more to an already overflowing list, but a spiritual action — and an invitation “to go deeper,” which notes a Scripture passage and offers a prayer prompt for contemplation and journaling. You don’t have to go through these start to finish; the book is made for readers to pick and choose the theme for their prayer.

At the end of Draw Close to Jesus, you’ll find what Merridith calls “a Catholic toolbox to rescue you when prayer just won’t seem to come” (128). There are instructions on praying the Rosary (which I find to be a good way to ease into Adoration, as the repetition of the prayers helps clear my mind of the to-do lists that distract me); the Memorare, the Litany of Trust and Litany of Humility, novenas, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Of course, any of these prayers can be prayed at any time (not just during Adoration) but it’s handy to have them right there if you’d like to make them part of your prayer routine.

monstrance in Adoration chapel

After keeping a weekly holy hour for more than five years, I can say that no two adorers approach this devotion the same way. In fact, I don’t approach all my holy hours the same way. But there’s useful material in Draw Close to Jesus, whether you begin your Adoration time with a Rosary or end it by reading the Bible. This book has earned its place beside my journal, pen, and holy cards in my Adoration tote bag.

Draw Close to Jesus is available for preorder now and releases Friday, August 13.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Photo copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.

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.

books on a bookshelf

On My Bookshelf: Saints, Parenting, and Family Finance

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Today, I’m taking a look at 6 new books on the topics of saints, parenting, and family finance.

Pray Along with Married Saints

If you and your spouse are looking for a different way to pray together, try this new devotional by Kent and Kaitlin Lasnoski. 30 Days with Married Saints: a Catholic Couples’ Devotional includes a month’s worth of reflections inspired by the Holy Family and eleven saintly couples or individuals who evangelized by example.

The married saints passionately loved their spouses, delighted in their children, opened their homes to strangers, gave generously to others, and lived an intense piety. They also managed to find joy amid their day’s equivalents of dirty diapers, dishes, laundry, cubicles, traffic, and office meetings. They were the salt and light of the world and the presence of the risen Christ to those who met them (see Mt 5:13-16). Now from heaven these married saints continually intercede for the faithful’s intentions, including for your marriage. Through their example and prayers, may the married saints lead us to Christ! (4-5)

Each daily section (5 to 10 pages) includes an opening prayer, a reflection inspired by a saint or saintly couple, suggestions for spiritual practice, and a closing prayer. This book would make a wonderful gift for an engaged couple, newlyweds, or to celebrate a wedding anniversary. Available from Pauline Books & Media.

 

What Is Good Catholic Parenting, Anyway?

Mark and Melanie Hart explain in Our Not-Quite-Holy Family: A Practical Guide for Catholic Parents that there’s no one way to be a good parent. This is an honest and often clever look at what family life is really like, written by a couple with children in college, high school, middle school, and elementary school. In this book’s seven chapters, the authors discuss proactive parenting, dealing with extended family, marital intimacy, creating a domestic church, prayer, screen time, and raising future saints. Each chapter includes a prayer and a number of practical steps you and your spouse can take to meet your ultimate parenting goal: leading each other, and your children, to heaven.

Remember the goal of your parenting is to raise well-formed young souls. If you see your spouse beginning to lose their temper in a situation, look at them and simply say, “Remember the goal.” God has entrusted these souls to you for a reason. You are capable of more than you think you are with the help of his grace (13).

You’ll also find an appendix packed with prayers and devotions for couples and families, and short testimonials from 5 Catholic families. Available from Ave Maria Press.

 

A Deep Dive into Catholic Parenting

Conor Gallagher’s Parenting for Eternity: A Guide to Raising Children in Holy Mother Church takes a look at how parents can direct their efforts toward saving their children’s souls. This book is not a light read, and it seems to be geared to parents of younger children; the writing style is decidedly old-fashioned (if I hadn’t seen the 2021 copyright date, I’d have pegged the book to have been written at least 65 years earlier). If you are a fan of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen’s work, this parenting book is for you.

As a parent, you must examine your conscience: do you give greater attention to your child’s physical or spiritual well-being? Have you gone to great lengths to construct your entire life around your child’s health, education, social life, and sports so they can be well-rounded, productive, and successful citizens? A resounding yes comes to mind. But have you given even 10 percent of such effort to their spiritual formation? Have you considered Heaven and hell 10 percent as much as you consider wordly success for your growing child? (3-4)

Chapters discuss the Four Last Things, piety, humility, the Church, Our Lady and the saints, awareness of the angelic and demonic, and the School of Calvary. You’ll also find four appendices that include Christ’s warnings about hell, prayers and novena for the holy souls, the Angelus, and a prayer for your child’s vocation. Available from TAN Books.

 

Beatitudes-Based Healing for Parents

In All Things New: Breaking the Cycle and Raising a Joyful Family, Erin McCole Cupp reaches out to parents who don’t feel equipped for the task because they didn’t have good parenting models as they grew up. If your childhood was marked by dysfunction, difficulty, and a lack of nurturing, you’re not doomed to repeat that scenario with your own family — you need a new parenting toolkit than the one you were provided.

We know what not to do. But God is a good father, and he knows that we need more than directions on the negative. He knows we need directions on what to do instead. That is why, in preparing to give us the new covenant of his blood on the cross, Jesus first climbed a mountain, sat his people down, and gave them directions on how to live within the boundaries of freedom. In other words, in the Sermon on the Mount, he gave us the Beatitudes. He gave us a new script. (76)

This book is not designed only for parents just starting out. Of course, parents of newborns or expectant parents will benefit from the information and encouragement in All Things New, but parents of children of any age (even young adults) can learn strategies for forgiving, trusting (where appropriate), making emotional connections, practicing gratitude, and more parenting skills of the kind those regular parenting books don’t teach you — because they assume you learned them during your formative years.

 

The Parents Behind the Holy Cards

Are you raising a future saint? Get your parenting inspiration from Patrick O’Hearn’s new collective biography, Parents of the Saints: The Hidden Heroes Behind Our Favorite Saints. O’Hearn tells the stories of more than 100 parents whose children became saints. The book is organized by seven hallmarks of holiness: sacramental life (including Our Lady), surrender, sacrificial love, suffering, simplicity, solitude, and sacredness of life.

Behind every holy card, image, and statue of the saints lies the story of a person who came from a father and mother. It is within this school of love, this domestic church, where most saints learned to pray, love, and receive the mustard seed of faith, which, in time, developed into heroic virtue (3).

Some narratives are longer than others; Louis and Zélie Martin’s story spans 15 pages, while Karol and Emilia Wojtila’s is a single page long. The book can be read straight through, or you can pick and choose as you go. No matter what order you read about these saints, you’ll be inspired and edified by their lives and example. Available from TAN Books.

 

Setting Financial Goals, Catholic Style

A Catholic Guide to Spending Less and Living More: Advice from a Debt-Free Family of 16 by Sam and Rob Fatzinger took me back to the early days of my marriage, when we lived on one income and I scoured The Tightwad Gazette (borrowed from the library, of course!) for money-saving tips as my financial contribution to the family. Not only does this book contain plenty of tips that families (or singles) can use regardless of their family situation, it also simplifies some basic financial concepts and offers spiritual insight about how we use our money.

Do you want God to give you the strength to avoid going further into debt? How about skipping a meal? Or giving up dessert for a week? Maybe you have a thing for sugary coffees; could you go a few days drinking black coffee? Or, dare I say, no coffee at all? Offer a prayer with each short fast for an increase in the virtues that will help you avoid overspending (65).

Sam and Rob Fatzinger share their own stories of figuring out the best ways to save money and stay out of debt while living on one income. Recommended especially for newly married couples and singles starting out on their own. Available from Ave Maria Press.


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!

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

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Create with Visme

I spend a good part of my work day on images: choosing, sizing, making sure complete photo attribution is provided … so I have tried several image creation services over the years.

Right now I’m getting to know Visme.co, which boasts an intuitive interface between me (not a graphic artist) and a robust set of tools that include:

  • Extensive stock photo library
  • Large selection of fonts*
  • Templates for social media graphics, infographics, printables, and presentations
  • Photo enhancement tools to increase color saturation, add filters, blur, and overlay
  • Photo grid (collage) capability
  • Support for branded content

This is just the tip of the creative iceberg: Visme is there to make your work (and, therefore, you) look good, even if you don’t have an art degree.

What else can you create with Visme?

Check out Visme: it’s free to try and easy to use.

*I fully admit to getting lost amid the many fonts available for use in projects! I can spend a long time choosing just the right font. The “Font Pairing” option is a great help in choosing two fonts that look good together.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image created in Visme
Access to Visme Premium was provided for the purposes of this review; no other compensation was received.

Journal Your Way Through Big Changes

In Menopause Moments: a journal for nourishing your mind, body and spirit in midlife, Melanie Rigney explores menopause with compassion. Melanie encourages women not to view the physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges of menopause as setbacks, inviting readers instead to laugh a little, to find ways to be grateful amid physical and emotional turbulence, and to practice self-care.

This journal is packed with gentle, practical tips for embracing and contemplating God’s plan in this season of life. Use it as you like: a section a day, a section a week, go through it here and there as you need it — the design is open-ended enough for you to switch it up as you like.

From the Preface:

This journal’s purpose is to show you you’re never alone, and maybe to make you laugh a little. There’s a short reflection for each entry, along with a verse to contemplate, an action item, and a spark for reflecting or praying. You can start with day one, or thumb through to find the page you need that particular day. Either way, I hope you feel refreshed and more confident in your future, yourself, and your faith. (viii)

When I was slammed into instant menopause due to major surgery at age 46, keeping a sense of humor is one of the things that got me through. In some ways I was lucky, as I knew what was coming, though the severity and frequency of symptoms varied day by day. I remember begging my husband to add a room with a walk-in freezer to the back of my house so I could stand in there during hot flashes. (The poor guy. He had no idea what was coming. Melanie might need to start working on a companion journal for husbands with menopausal wives.)

My vision of self-care often involves M&Ms and never involves manicures. But one of my favorite parts of Menopause Moments is the Action section in each chapter. Some actions are concrete things you can do to help yourself or others: change up (or begin) an exercise routine, helping an elder relative or friend find ways to give of themselves, memorizing a favorite Scripture passage, and, yes, hosting a manicure night with friends. Journaling along with Menopause Moments is one of the best self-care practices a woman can begin during this life-changing experience.

Learn more about Melanie Rigney and her writing and speaking at MelanieRigney.com.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Featured image: Visme
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free copy of this book for review and endorsement purposes, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Beatitudes-Based Healing for Parents

In All Things New: Breaking the Cycle and Raising a Joyful Family, Erin McCole Cupp reaches out to parents who don’t feel equipped for the task because they didn’t have good parenting models as they grew up. If your childhood was marked by dysfunction, difficulty, and a lack of nurturing, you’re not doomed to repeat that scenario with your own family — you need a new parenting toolkit than the one you were provided.

We know what not to do. But God is a good father, and he knows that we need more than directions on the negative. He knows we need directions on what to do instead. That is why, in preparing to give us the new covenant of his blood on the cross, Jesus first climbed a mountain, sat his people down, and gave them directions on how to live within the boundaries of freedom. In other words, in the Sermon on the Mount, he gave us the Beatitudes. He gave us a new script. (76)

Drawing on the Beatitudes as means to help parents fill in the gap between their wounded pasts and their hopeful futures, Erin offers strategies for setting boundaries, moving forward, and personal growth. Each chapter includes a prayer and an inspiring story of a saint who persevered despite being wounded by those who were supposed to love them.

This book is not designed only for parents just starting out. Of course, parents of newborns or expectant parents will benefit from the information and encouragement in All Things New, but parents of children of any age (even young adults) can learn strategies for forgiving, trusting (where appropriate), making emotional connections, practicing gratitude, and more parenting skills of the kind those regular parenting books don’t teach you — because they assume you learned them during your formative years.

All Things New is an invitation to begin again; this book is an invitation to hope.

For more information

Visit ErinMcColeCupp.com to sign up for Erin’s free newsletter, read weekly blog posts, and find links to Erin’s speaking apostolate — plus more.

Follow Erin on Instagram (especially the Stories) for helpful reinforcement on your journey toward being a break-the-cycle parent. 


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image: Stencil Pro
This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author. I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

books on a bookshelf

On My Bookshelf: Close to the Soul

Could a summer read set in the late 1950s through early 1960s shed light on a topic of current national debate? Surprisingly, yes. Mary Jo Thayer’s debut novel, Close to the Soul, released in May by Full Quiver Publishing, is the story of a young woman from a devout Catholic family whose own dreams (as well as her parents’ dreams for her) are shattered after a sexual assault at a high-school event.

This novel’s publication couldn’t be better timed. As a high-school valedictorian basks in her 15 minutes of fame for her support of unlimited abortion rights in her home state, noting, “I am terrified that if I am raped, then my hopes and aspirations and dreams and efforts for my future will no longer matter,” we need to affirm to our teens and young adults that abortion is not the solution it’s made out to be.

This is exactly the aim of Close to the Soul. Carolyn Fandel’s story is proof that while unplanned pregnancies — even pregnancies that are the result of sexual assault — do change the course and direction of women’s lives, they need not ruin women’s lives. With support and sacrifice, women can still achieve their dreams — or they can channel their abilities and energies into realizing new and different dreams, beyond their own expectations.

In Close to the Soul, Carolyn is blessed with the support of her parents, siblings, and extended family. She discovers that not every woman in her situation has that family support as a resource, but she also discovers that support is out there and that she can help make it available. A friend’s confession shocks Carolyn with the revelation that some parents not only don’t support their unexpectedly pregnant daughters, but force them to abort their unborn children. This spurs Carolyn to want to help women in crisis pregnancies. Their futures do matter, and while their futures might not look like what they’d originally planned, that doesn’t mean their futures are any less worthwhile.

Close to the Soul can lead to much-needed conversations between mothers and daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters, aunts and nieces, and among friends as women ponder ways they can support each other rather than rushing toward expedient solutions with devastating consequences.


Copyright 2021 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.

books on a bookshelf

On my bookshelf: May 2021 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:

Fiction

In a Far-Off Land by Stephanie Landsem. Such an excellent novel! Stephanie Landsem places themes from the Parable of the Prodigal Son in 1930s-era Hollywood in this compelling tale of ambition, glamor that’s all on the surface, family loyalty, and forgiveness. While aspiring starlet Minerva Sinclaire is meant to be the star of the show, I was much more fascinated by the two young men, Oscar and Max, who opened themselves to considerable risk in order to protect and help her. 5 stars.

Songs for Clara by Larry Denninger. Family secrets, longtime grudges, musical mysteries, and pretty girls in the 1980s equivalent of the friend zone … this debut novel puts it all together. A young music teacher discovers a packet of sheet music in his childhood home, but his estranged father (the composer) has dementia and can’t share the details of the mystery woman, Clara, to whom the work is dedicated. Frank endangers his relationship with his sister, his bandmates, and the two women who compete for his affection as he endeavors to solve the mystery. 5 stars.

When I Last Saw You by Bette Less Crosby. In this split-timeline story, a recent widow hires a private detective to track down the family members she’d lost touch with decades before when her mother had to split up the children in order to survive. Her mother’s story of betrayal by her husband and being left to a hardscrabble life with eight children is a tragic counterpoint to the story of a slowly reunited family and a chance at new love. Don’t miss this one! 5 stars.

Hadley Beckett’s Next Dish by Bethany Turner. If you like Food Network shows, this romance is for you. Southern chef Hadley competes against the bad-boy New Yorker for a coveted spot: her own season of a special show highlighting the best chefs. Her grace under pressure while Max throws a tantrum during the final round seems to seal the deal – but then the producers decide it will make better TV to pit the two against each other. 4 stars.

The Oysterville Sewing Circle by Susan Wiggs. After a career-imploding situation in New York City, up-and-coming fashion designer Caroline’s world changes when her close friend and favorite model dies suddenly and Caroline is entrusted with the care of her two small children. She returns to coastal Washington state to stay with family and, as a way of making up for her lack of awareness of her friend’s situation as a victim of domestic violence, starts a small business and support group for local domestic violence victims. 5 stars.

YA/Children’s

Lucia of Fatima (Brave Hearts #3) by Kathryn Griffin Swegart. Excellent introduction to the story of the apparitions at Fatima for kids ages 10 and up. Told from the point of view of Lucia, who was 10 years old when the Blessed Mother first appeared to her and her younger cousins at Fatima, this historical novel gives readers a look into what it was like for the young visionary and how her life was changed afterward. The author, a gifted storyteller, skillfully portrayed each scene. The story brings home the message that you are never too young to follow God’s call. Written for ages 10 and up, but would be a good read-aloud for age 7 and up. 

Nonfiction

Behold This Heart by Fr. Thomas Dailey, OSFS. Fr. Dailey begins the book with chapters on the Salesian Backstory (the history and traditions of the Order) and Salesian Prayer. This chapter contained fascinating information on the iconography of the Sacred Heart and its depictions in art prior to the time of St. Margaret Mary — and how her own drawings and letters have affected depictions of the Sacred Heart since her lifetime. Throughout the book there are many beautiful images of the Sacred Heart to contemplate as you read and pray. Review copy received from the publisher. Read my full review at CatholicMom.com.

Simple Mercies: How the Works of Mercy bring Peace and Fulfillment by Lara Patangan, provides practical, do-able ways to live the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy in your family and community. In each chapter, Lara begins with a quote that sets the tone for the chapter, then discusses the kinds of opportunities for experiencing a particular Work of Mercy in our own lives, families, work, church and communities. God is never left out of the equation, as Lara frequently references the graces God gives us to carry out works of mercy in His name, with love. Later in each chapter, you’ll find a section titled “Mercy Works: Try It” which lists ideas for applying each Work of Mercy in your family, community, and personal relationship with God. Chapters conclude with reflection questions (perfect for journaling on your own, or for discussion at your book club or parish faith-sharing group), and a concluding prayer. Review copy received from the publisher. Read my full review.


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

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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 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz