On Barb’s Bookshelf: From Dust to Stars

CatholicMom.com’s own Jake Frost has proved himself a versatile author: he’s penned a children’s book, a memoir, and now a volume of poetry.

In From Dust to Stars, Frost captures the reader’s imagination by grounding the poetry in history. The poems cover topics ranging from biblical figures and events to persecution of Catholics in Britain to saints of the Church. Some of them are even prayers, written in verse.

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Reading poetry requires a very different focus than reading fiction or nonfiction. Instead of hurtling from beginning to end of a story, novel, article, or book, the reader of poetry spins away down the rabbit hole of imagination and wonder and making connections.

I stopped reading From Dust to Stars many times, so I could go down those rabbit holes. I needed to think about how things fit together, to let my mind wander, to wonder. And, I admit, I needed to Google — because Frost’s poems are interspersed with mini-history lessons that made me want to learn more. I found out that the same Franciscans who formerly staffed my home parish are the ones who recently returned to Walsingham. I was fascinated by the story behind “Quo Vadis?” I found myself thinking that “The Ones Who Went Before” could easily be sung in the style of a mournful Irish folk song.

So to all you who would seek to know
Who in dreams the seeds of wonder so
Nurture the wonder so that it grows …
“Saint Brendan”

poetry grounded in history
Image created in Canva. Background photo credit: Walsingham Abbey ruins, by Richard Croft, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Copyright 2018 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.

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On Barb’s Bookshelf: A Family Rosary Book

complete illuminated rosary

Praying the Rosary with children is not without its challenges. When I was substitute-teaching, the children in the primary grades would frequently lose their places because they would drop their rosaries, or fiddle with the beads (or knots) so much that their fingers would move to a different bead. It was all part of the adventure, I thought, and since I was distracted myself, trying to maintain order and a prayerful atmosphere, I figured there was no way around it.

Jerry Windley-Daoust of Gracewatch Media found a creative — and beautiful — way to solve this problem. The Complete Illuminated Rosary is the coffee-table book of Rosary guides. This book is meant to bring parents and children together to pray the Rosary — no beads necessary.

complete illuminated rosary

This large-format book (it measures 8 1/2 x 11″) offers a page or two per prayer for the entire Rosary. Simply turn the page to progress to the next “bead.” At the beginning of each mystery, there is a short selection from the Gospels that corresponds to that mystery, along with a note at the bottom of the page prompting the prayer leader (parent or older child) to ask for prayer intentions. On each “Hail Mary” page, you’ll find a row of beads depicted at the bottom: one for the first “Hail Mary” in the decade, and so on, in case you do want to follow along on a real Rosary.

“Why is it ‘illuminated’?” a friend asked when she saw this book on my coffee table. This is what makes the book truly unique. Every single “bead” in this book is depicted by a beautiful work of sacred art, from a wide variety of styles. You’ll find work by El Greco, Delacroix, Caravaggio, Frangelico, and Rubens, plus present-day artists Jen Norton, Brother Michael “Mickey” O’Neill McGrath, and Andrei Mironov — among many, many others. An art-credits section at the end of the book explains the source of every painting, drawing, or stained-glass window. The art in the book, all by itself, can lead you to prayer.

Gracewatch Media offers the Illuminated Rosary in three formats: paperback, hardcover, and in separate books for each mystery. Securing the rights to use some art that is not in the public domain, plus publishing in full color in a large format, contribute to the cost of this book (as of this writing, $49.49 on Amazon for the paperback), but this book is a treasury of art dedicated to prayer.


Copyright 2018 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: “Where You Lead” by Leslea Wahl

You might think, from the title, that Leslea Wahl’s new novel for teens is Gilmore Girls fan fiction. You’d be wrong.

The “You” in Where You Lead isn’t a character in the novel at all. It’s God — and that’s a really cool angle in a YA book.

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In this fun-to-read romantic suspense novels for teens, Eve is prompted by an odd vision to goad her parents into a cross-country move. She can’t tell them the real reason: she knows she needs to help or protect the young man playing Frisbee in front of a red castle. But when Eve engineers a chance to meet him, Nick (understandably) thinks she’s a crazy stalker.

Soon the professor’s daughter and senator’s son find themselves embroiled in a mystery involving lost Civil War treasure — one that may have international implications in the present. It’s refreshing to read about teens who openly pray and who try to find out what God wants them to do, especially as this felt like a natural part of the story, not something forced. The dialogue and characters are real, and the cranky elderly neighbor provided comic relief. I was immediately drawn into this page-turner.

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The sense of place in this novel really struck me. Leslea Wahl lived in Washington, DC, as a young adult, and between her own experience in our nation’s capital, plus plenty of careful research, she makes the setting come alive. It’s been decades since I’ve visited DC, but now I have a mental list of places I’d love to see if we ever return there.

Where You Lead is recommended for readers in middle school and up.

Do you want to win a free book? Leslea is hosting a Treasure Hunt through October 15, with 10 chances to win!

I still hear that Carole King song in my head when I see the title, but I think the lyrics definitely apply to this story.


Copyright 2018 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.

Open Book: September 2018 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

relicRelic of His Heart by Jane Lebak. When a midwife is suddenly confronted by an angel who wants her to restore a relic stolen 70 years ago to a church in Italy, she thinks he’s crazy. Then she finds out the depth of her family’s connection to that church, and the dire state of the town — and her journalist husband gets on board to help with this mission. Along the way, her own livelihood is threatened as lawmakers try to enact legislation that will effectively outlaw midwifery in her state. One of the things Jane Lebak does very well is human-angel banter, and this novel is no exception. This is an excellent story, with plenty of clever humor, a great twist at the end, and almost no gory birth-center details to deter the squeamish (like me). Interwoven in the dialogue is a wonderful explanation of what Catholics believe about relics. Recommended!

catching christmasCatching Christmas by Terri Blackstock. I’m pretty sure the first chapter’s premise came from a meme: cab driver pulls up to house that looks like no one’s home. Reluctantly going to the door, he finds an elderly woman asleep in wheelchair and takes her to medical appointment. That’s where the meme ends and the novel begins. Over the next several days, former restauranteur Finn needs to pay his rent, but Callie, the elderly woman, is so insistent that he not only driver to her to the places she needs to go (including Christmas shopping), but bring her in to each and every one. That means he can’t leave the meter running. That means he’s out the cash – and plenty of it. He alternates between anger at Callie’s granddaughter, Sydney, who apparently is too tied up in her work to care for her grandmother, and remorse for the way he treated his own mother when she was dying. Great story. (Netgalley review)

end of the worldThe End of the World by Amy Matayo. When Cameron shows up on the doorstep of his new foster home, he’s greeted by a slightly-older teenage girl who tries to help him survive the awful circumstances he’s just entered. Shaya is bossy, but that’s all a cover she uses to keep it together in a horrific situation. Cameron joins Shaya in caring for the younger 3 children in the home and finding a place where the two of them can pretend that none of this is happening. This is not your typical foster-home horror story, though there’s plenty of that in this novel. Instead, it’s a story of resilience, of missed opportunities, of brokenness so deep that there seems little chance for wholeness. Warning: this story will shatter your heart. But it’s well worth it.

curve in the roadA Curve in the Road by Julianne MacLean. Lots of suspense in this quick-to-read novel. Abbie’s perfect life is shattered when she’s seriously injured in a car wreck by a drunk driver — and family secrets she never knew come to light. Her whole life changes in a matter of seconds. I usually don’t feel I can relate to characters who have perfect lives, but maybe because Abbie’s life stops being perfect in the very first chapter, it was different this time. I had trouble putting this book down.

wideness of the seaThe Wideness of the Sea by Katie Curtis. Twentysomething artist Anna Goodrich lives and works in New York, putting distance between herself and her father, since their relationship has become complicated after her mother’s death. She doesn’t want to live her life bound by his expectations that she’ll follow in her mother’s footsteps as a famous artist. Her return to her Maine hometown for her uncle’s funeral brings up old hurts, including an old romance; at the same time, she learns she’s been invited to show her work at a prestigious art show that would blow her cover. An enjoyable read.

GIRLS AT 17The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib. A truly intense novel written from the point of view of a young married woman with anorexia. Anna is a dancer in Paris, but an injury ends her career and she becomes obsessed with staying thin. Add in the depression resulting from her relocation to the USA for her husband’s job and some childhood tragedies, and Anna winds up in a residential treatment facility for women with eating disorders. The author makes the thought process of the patient with anorexia painfully real. (Netgalley review)

beach windsBeach Winds (Emerald Isle NC #2) by Grace Greene. This story feels like it starts in the middle; Frannie is tasked with taking care of her uncle’s house while he recovers from a stroke. She hires a handyman to paint and repair things, but what’s really in need of repair is her own self-esteem once she finds out she’s being gaslighted and lied to about her childhood.

castles in the cloudsCastles in the Clouds (Flowers of Eden #2) by Myra Johnson. This novel follows an infatuated Lark as she follows her handsome professor to Africa to teach in a mission school; let down professionally and romantically, she must find a way to make a difference in a small Southern town during the Depression.

YA/Children’s

harrietHarriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I read this countless times as a kid, and just reread it after some authors were discussing it online. If Harriet the Spy were walking around today, she’d probably use Instagram or Snapchat. But this book would make a great lead-in to a discussion of cyberbullying, boundaries, and where we keep private thoughts private. This favorite from my childhood stands the test of time.

Nonfiction

Book CoverIt’s OK to Start with You by Julia Hogan. This not the kind of self-help book that works from the assumption that you’re doing this on your own. Hogan writes from a Catholic point of view, and she includes mental, emotional, social, and spiritual self-care in her whole-person look at this topic. (Review copy received from publisher.) 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!

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Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: 5 Advent Devotionals

Before you say, “It’s too early to start thinking about Advent!” I’d invitee you to take a look around any craft store, gift shop, and warehouse club and notice all the Christmas merchandise that’s been on the shelves for at least a month. Advent begins December 2, and the best way to enjoy a peaceful liturgical season is to do a little prep work ahead of time.

The authors and editors from Ave Maria Press have been putting together Advent resources for months now. I had the chance to peek into five of these, each with a different focus.

sacred reading adventSacred Reading for Advent and Christmas by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network. This book for Advent and Christmas is always a favorite. It’s a 96-page paperback that offers the daily Gospel reading and a walk through a lectio divina exercise for the day, from the First Sunday of Advent through Epiphany (celebrated this year on January 6). After you read the Gospel, you are prompted to notice what you think and feel as you read, pray as you are led for yourself and others, listen to Jesus, and ask God to show you how to live today. In the instructions for using the book, the authors note,

One of the ways we can better understand and respond to the Lord during this holy season of Advent is by rediscovering, along with Christians all over the world, a powerful, ancient form of prayer known as sacred reading (lectio divina). What better way to deepen one’s friendship with Jesus Christ, the Word of God, than by prayerfully encountering him in the daily gospel?

sacred reading 2019Sacred Reading: The 2019 Guide to Daily Prayer by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network is set up in the same way: it’s the full-year version of Sacred Reading for Advent and Christmas. This easy-to-use prayer guide is appropriate for teens and adults and provides a wonderful way to enter into the spirit of each day’s gospel readings. The book also includes the Pope’s monthly prayer intentions, so you can unite your prayers with those of the universal Church for those special intentions each month. I have used the books in this series for several years and was honored to endorse this year’s edition; the full-year version isn’t too big to be portable (and as with the Advent book, an ebook version is also available).

gaze upon JesusGaze Upon Jesus: Experiencing Christ’s Childhood through the Eyes of Women, edited by Kelly Wahlquist, is a six-week scripture study that focuses on Jesus’ infancy and early years. This is a unique devotional that blends Bible-inspired fiction, sacred art, personal narratives, and scripture reflections. Gaze Upon Jesus can be used by individuals as well as prayer groups or book clubs. Contributors to this book include authors from WINE (Women in the New Evangelization): Alyssa Bormes, Sarah Christmyer, Mary Healy, Maria Morera Johnson, Stephanie Landsem, Elizabeth Lev, Joan Lewis, Deborah Savage, Kelly Wahlquist, Katie Warner, and Carol Younger.

At the beginning of the book you’ll find several pages of beautiful, full-color art reproductions (of varying styles) that accompany certain readings in the book. In the Introduction, editor Kelly Wahlquist observes,

Jesus always looks at you with love. He has fixed his gaze on you. The question is, have you fixed your gaze on him?

Gazing upon Jesus and receiving his gaze changes our lives. It allows us to feel his burning love for us. It heals our hearts and enkindles in us a burning desire for a relationship with God. (3)

living gospel daily reflections adventThe Living Gospel: Daily Devotions for Advent 2018 by Greg Kandra is a series of reflections by a journalist and deacon who writes in a down-to-earth style. Each day’s entry is a page or two in length; scripture references for the day’s readings are included (bring your own Bible). The reflections provide plenty of food for thought (or journaling), and there are action items/resolutions and a prayer to close out each day’s entry.

We get some idea of the daring that life involves as we begin the season of Advent. Whether we realize it or not, we’re embarking on an adventure of our own.

word made fleshWord Made Flesh: A Companion to the Sunday Readings (Cycle C) by Christopher West looks at the Cycle C Sunday readings through the lens of Theology of the Body. (This is not specifically an Advent book, but as this Advent begins the Cycle C readings, that’s the right time to begin reading Word Made Flesh.) The meditation for each Sunday is only about two pages long, which is perfect when you’re pressed for time. West notes in the introduction that it can guide your prayer after Communion, or you can read the day’s readings and this commentary in advance of Sunday Mass to “help you enter into the treasures of that day’s liturgy.”

5 for Advent


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 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Geeking Out Over Timelines

Geeking Out Over Timelines

When you’re interested in the study of history, there’s nothing like a timeline to help you get everything in order. Kids, parents, and teachers will all benefit from two new books that give the visual learner (like me) plenty to geek out over: The Great Adventure Catholic Bible and The Church Rocks!

Begin at the Beginning

The Great Adventure Catholic Bible from Ascension Press combines a beautiful Bible with color-coded timelines, a 90-day Bible reading plan (which covers the highlights of salvation history), and guidance on interpreting the Bible, applying Scripture to our lives, and praying with Scripture. The Bible is divided into sections, each of which has a fascinating introduction featuring maps, charts, and historical background:

  • Early World
  • Patriarchs
  • Egypt & Exodus
  • Desert Wanderings
  • Conquest & Judges
  • Royal Kingdom
  • Divided Kingdom
  • Exile
  • Return
  • Maccabean Revolt
  • Messianic Fulfillment
  • The Church

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Each of these sections has its own color, and every page of the Bible has a band of that color to help keep you on track as you read. Key events are marked with a box with extra information at the top of the page and a symbol within the text that corresponds to the box. There are ample footnotes and a mini-concordance at the bottom of each page. Jesus’ words are in red type. Every feature of this Bible is designed to help the reader place events in history, understand their significance, and learn why the message still matters today.

This Bible is colorful without being juvenile and uses the Revised Standard Version – Second Catholic Edition translation. The cover is blue vinyl with gold lettering and an embossed compass logo, and there are even two page-marker ribbons.

The Great Adventure Catholic Bible would make an excellent Confirmation gift. I’m really impressed with all the useful features and historical information.

History and Heritage

Beginning with Pentecost, the “birthday of the Church,” and ending with the New Evangelization, Sister Mary Lea Hill, FSP, has put together a history of the Catholic Church that will appeal to kids, teens, and the adults in their lives.

The Church Rocks! (I see what the author did there) is a century-by-century look at Church history that covers everything from stained glass to saints. It’s clever without being irreverent and definitely takes the “boring” out of historical study, providing a clear sense of time and place to Church events.

Each chapter begins with a timeline that lists major events in that century. In addition to the chapter’s narrative, readers will find an “I Witness” paragraph, written from the point of view of someone from that time period; this will grab the attention of younger readers (grades 3 to 5). Older students (grades 5 and up) will appreciate “More than the Facts,” “Latest and Greatest,” and “On the Record,” all of which offer more information on special topics, events, or important people. For further research, “Mystery of History” suggests topics for study. There’s also a writing prompt, vocabulary builder, and prayer in each chapter. “The Bigger Picture” closes out each chapter by placing that century in historical context and setting up what’s to come in the next century.

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Packed with black-and-white reproductions of famous art from the time, pictures of saints, and a useful index, this book would make a useful classroom tool and will intrigue history buffs of all ages.

Take a peek at the inside of this fascinating book:


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Amazon links are included in this post. I received review copies of both these books, but no other compensation, from the publishers. Opinions expressed here are mine.

“It’s OK to Start with You” and Physical Self-Care

Self Care

It’s not selfish to take good care of yourself.

Why is that so difficult for us to understand? I’m no exception — especially when it comes to physical self-care. (Which is why I thought it was hilarious when author Julia Hogan invited me to help introduce her new book, It’s OK to Start with You, by concentrating on physical self-care.)

When it comes to taking care of myself physically, I’m the poster child for excuses. I’ll get all that out of the way right now. Hogan enumerates four ways we take care of ourselves physically:

  • Sleep. I’m a poor sleeper, and often I’m woken up in the night by TheKid’s glucose monitor — he’s not a poor sleeper, so he sleeps through those alarms. There I am at 4 AM, rummaging in the fridge for apple juice. On the plus side, I know I can’t function well with little sleep, so I do make the effort to get to bed well before 10 PM, since I wake up at 5 AM. I don’t see much I can change here.
  • Nutrition. Yes, I have a food blog that features nutrition labels for every recipe so people with diabetes or other dietary issues can get carb counts. I also have the remains of a 4-pound bag of M&Ms in my desk drawer. That’s a problem.
  • Exercise. I thought I’d make a commitment to exercising for the week leading up to this article. Later that day, as I was walking (to get ice cream … I was on vacation!) my left knee buckled under me, so I slowly made my way back to where we were staying, without any ice cream, and I’m not going to be taking any power walks around the neighborhood anytime soon. Even with the knee brace, it’s hurting.
  • Body image. Now, this I can work on, sore knee and all. No excuses.

To be honest (and if nothing else, this book is all about honesty), I think the area of body image is the one where I need the most help. Other issues (except for sleep) stem from that.

Why don’t I take better care of myself?

For one, I’m lazy. Self-care takes time. But Hogan notes, “the way we treat ourselves betrays what we really think of ourselves” (20).

OUCH.

She’s right.

I like that Hogan, right up front, emphasizes that self-care is not an excuse to behave selfishly (11). Self-indulgence is not self-care, but we’ve all fallen into the trap of thinking we deserve that pumpkin-spice latte or new pair of shoes to reward ourselves for merely getting through the day or the week.

I have a long way to go.

“Instead of aiming for ‘perfection,’ aim for appreciating the body you have been given and the amazing things it can do” (76).

While my body can’t do all the amazing things right now because of that knee injury, and it may never look picture-perfect since I’m 53 and, um, allergic to exercise, it’s nurtured three children and can still, even with a knee injury, do the laundry and go to the supermarket to get fresh vegetables for dinner. (I might milk it a bit when it comes to housecleaning, though.)

This is a book you’re meant to write in. I didn’t only write in mine — I underlined those points that I’m going to need to reread until they sink in. Or until I let them sink in. There are places in the book to work through self-care action plans. I decided to focus on two physical areas, and I chose steps that I thought were realistic and measurable.

My 3-step plan to improve body image:

  • Work on my wardrobe. If it doesn’t fit and flatter, it’s out. I made an appointment for a clothing-donation pickup and have already filled three bags. I’ll try on skirts and pants when moving is a little easier. Also, I want to reserve sweatpants for exercising and relaxing at home. If I’m going to leave the house, I should look better than that.
  • Get a haircut. I looked back in my planner. My last haircut was June 6.
  • Moisturize. I don’t do makeup. And I usually skip basic skin care too.

[Put] in the necessary time and effort to groom and dress in a way that communicates your worth (77-78).

My 3-step plan for better nutrition:

  • Eat more protein – add a protein source to every meal.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables – add a fruit/vegetable/both to every meal.
  • Stop eating junk food in the office. I’ll eat less junk if I have to go downstairs to get it. I’ll leave a jar of mixed nuts in the office in case I need a snack. But I’m removing the M&Ms from my desk.

Make a conscious decision rather than letting your emotions decide when (and what) you eat (71).

Check out the YouTube playlist to get a full week of self-care challenges:

It’s OK to Start with You isn’t the kind of book you devour in one sitting, and it’s not the kind of self-help book that works from the assumption that you’re doing this on your own. Hogan writes from a Catholic point of view, and she includes mental, emotional, social, and spiritual self-care in her whole-person look at this topic.

Learn more by following author Julia Hogan on Facebook and Instagram. And don’t miss the contest on Instagram: you can win a copy of this book! To enter, visit the Instagram blog tour post and comment with the new self-care practice you will try. Contest ends Friday, September 14th, 2018 and the winner will be chosen at random on Monday, September 17th, 2018.


Copyright 2018 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 2018

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently.

At the end of July I was preparing for my trip to the Catholic Writers Guild Conference (a combination of business, pleasure, and spiritual retreat), so this will cover the best of what I’ve read this summer. If I gave it 3 stars or better on Goodreads, it made this list.

Fiction

year of extraordinary momentsA Year of Extraordinary Moments by Bette Lee Crosby. The second book in Bette Lee Crosby’s “Magnolia Grove” series brings readers back to the small-town neighbors who feel friendly and familiar. Tracy is finally beginning to put her past behind her and has gotten help for her profoundly deaf young child. Complications arise when Dominic, her ex, shows up, summoned by his dying grandmother, who wants to do the right thing for her descendants. But Dominic’s grandmother, despite her serious and painful illness, has a heart of gold and a spine of steel. Tracy’s sister Meghan, the main character in the first book in the series, must come to terms with her own need to follow what she believes were her late father’s wishes. This story of family, love, healing, and strength is one you won’t want to put down — and you won’t want the book to end. Highly recommended. (Netgalley review, but I preordered this book months ago and I know I’ll reread it when it’s released October 16.)

13th chanceThe Thirteenth Chance by Amy Matayo. What a fun read! Olivia, a pretty teacher with a bad case of OCD, gets mixed up in a MLB pitcher’s scheme to get his career back on track. Turns out she’s a bit of a good-luck charm, and while the two of them irritate each other, sparks begin to fly. This book is funny, and the characters have enough quirks to keep it interesting (there’s nothing worse than plain vanilla characters). A clean romance with plenty of banter. Great read for the summer!

unveilingUnveiling, a luxurious read by Suzanne Wolfe from Paraclete Press, is a story that was easy to dive into — and tough to stop reading. My only complaint? It wasn’t long enough! Assigned to Rome to restore a mysterious medieval painting, Rachel leaves her life in New York behind, along with a bitter divorce and a childhood trauma that’s left a mystery to the reader until she is no longer able to bury the secret she’d rather keep hidden. Meanwhile, Rachel and her team work against the looming threat that the art will be removed from the church after restoration is complete. My favorite part involved the question of the identity of the artist behind the beautiful painting Rachel was restoring, and this book made me want to discover more about religious art. (Review copy received from publisher.)

still fallingStill Falling (Home in You 0.5) by Crystal Walton. In this prequel to the “Home in You” series, musician Bree finds she can’t run away from the violence from her old neighborhood as quickly as she ran away from her old block — and her old flame, who’s now a police officer hoping to make detective. Bree and Josh are thrown together again when her father comes under fire from the gang Bree hopes to help her brother escape. I enjoyed this whole series and wish I’d read the books in order!

fearedFeared (Rosato & DiNunzio #6) by Lisa Scottoline. Snark, suspense, and plenty of local color flavor Lisa Scottoline’s crime novels. While this is not my preferred genre, I’m a fan of this author’s newspaper columns and I enjoy her books because she’s heavy on the Philly connection. In this sixth book in the series (you don’t have to have read them all before reading this), a former neighbor’s vendetta threatens to take out the no-longer-all-female law firm, an associate is mysteriously murdered, and Rosato & DiNunzio just aren’t sure who can be trusted. Premature labor complicates matters further. Not to be missed: the Rosary Society invading the mobster’s mom’s home. (Netgalley review)

falling for youFalling for You (Bradford Sisters Romance #2) by Becky Wade. Will they or won’t they? Willow Bradford and her former boyfriend Corbin are thrown together by Corbin’s young niece, who wants them to help her find a long-lost aunt. Along the way, opportunities for romance abound, along with some danger as supermodel Willow is stalked by some over-the-top fans and the two of them discover the extent of an apparently squeaky-clean politician’s secret corruption. Another obstacle: Corbin’s father, Joe, is dying — and he doesn’t want Willow involved with his son. I wasn’t wowed by this novel; all the main characters and their boyfriends seem to be beautiful and have perfectly-perfect careers. But I enjoyed the character of Corbin’s niece — she’d be great in a YA spinoff!

good samGood Sam by Dete Meserve. A refreshing change in the mystery genre: there’s no dead body opening this story. Instead, the mystery revolves around who’s been leaving bags with $100K at people’s doors. LA TV-news reporter Kate, seeking to advance her career with this Big Story, finds a connection to her former fiance and risks losing the new guy in her life. Just because there’s no corpse doesn’t mean everyone’s motives are above board.

YA/Children’s

where you leadWhere You Lead by Leslea Wahl. In this fun-to-read romantic suspense novel for teens, Eve is prompted by an odd vision to goad her parents into a cross-country move. She can’t tell them the real reason: she knows she needs to help or protect the young man playing frisbee in front of a red castle. But when Eve engineers a chance to meet him, he (understandably) thinks she’s a crazy stalker. Soon the professor’s daughter and senator’s son find themselves embroiled in a mystery involving lost Civil War treasure — one that may have international implications in the present. It’s refreshing to read about teens who openly pray and who try to find out what God wants them to do, especially as this felt like a natural part of the story, not something forced. The dialogue and characters are real, and the cranky elderly neighbor provided comic relief. I was immediately drawn into this page-turner. (Review copy provided by author.)

boundBound by Vijaya Bodach. High-school senior Rebecca can’t wait to go away to college — far away, where she can leave behind her father, who’s retreated into his work after her mom’s death last year, and her developmentally-disabled older sister. Rebecca, who was burned over 50% of her body as a preteen, is still dealing with surgeries and treatments for the burn scars and can’t remember the accident that caused the fire. But Rebecca’s dad isn’t dealing with Joy’s needs, leaving Rebecca to make decisions far beyond her years. When Joy becomes pregnant, the family is forced to rework this unhealthy dynamic. This engaging story is a sensitive treatment of prolife themes including abortion, end-of-life issues, and eugenics. Appropriate for teenagers, Bound would make an excellent classroom read.

33430141_10216812107521559_4057467162288193536_nSecrets: Visible and Invisible from CatholicTeenBooks.com. This anthology of Catholic fiction for teens will introduce readers to seven diverse authors. Many of these stories, in a variety of genres but linked by a common theme, offer a peek at characters from full-length novels. Readers already acquainted with these authors will enjoy new perspectives on favorite characters. Kudos to CatholicTeenBooks.com and these seven authors for dreaming up this excellent collection. From dystopia to historical fiction to sweet romance to mystery, there’s something for every reader to like in this collection — and it might even encourage a reader who’s locked in to a certain genre to branch out a bit.

born scaredBorn Scared by Kevin Brooks. A harrowing novel written from the point of view of a young boy/teen (?) who is afraid of EVERYTHING. His fear paralyzes him to an amazing degree. He can’t go anywhere. He’s almost all out of the only medication that even takes the edge off his terror, it’s Christmas Eve, and there’s a blizzard. His mom goes out to meet the friend who offered to pick up the prescription, but doesn’t return, so the terrified boy, in his desperation, ventures out in the storm to find her. The book is poetically written and absolutely gives words to the terror he feels. There were a few plot elements that weren’t very clear, but this is a good novel for the middle- and high-school reader and will generate good discussion about coping with fear and anxiety. (Netgalley review)

merci suarezMerci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina. Entering middle school is a challenge for any kid. Merci has extra obstacles to face: she’s a scholarship kid of a different race than most of her private-school classmates, she’s not super rich, and she’s noticing that something about her grandfather is not quite right anymore. Plus, her friends are starting to pair off into couples, and she’s not ready for that. Merci must face down classmates who’ll do anything to win, academically and socially. A good look at what it’s like to be a 6th-grader under a variety of pressures. (Netgalley review)

benefits of being an octopusThe Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden. Zoey, a middle-schooler, is charged with work beyond her years: caring for her three very young siblings while her mother works, trying to keep the kids fed (by any means necessary), and staying out of the way of her mom’s emotionally-abusive boyfriend. A caring teacher shows Zoey enough compassion mixed with demanding toughness to help Zoey realize that she has to take some action to help two vulnerable friends, her siblings, her mother, and herself. I would give this book 10 stars of out 5 if that were an option, and it is going to take me a long time to process everything I’ve read here. This is a YA book that any adult who deals with kids should read. It will be eye-opening for teachers and other school leaders. (Netgalley review)

louisianas way homeLouisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo. I devoured this middle-grade novel with a spunky main character whose voice reminded me very much of Junie B. Jones. Louisiana Elefante’s granny takes her on a journey in the middle of the night, abandoning their home and Louisiana’s friends and pets. Stranded in a Georgia town by Granny’s dental emergency, Louisiana discovers that she’ll need to find a way for herself in the world. This is a sweet story of unexpected kindnesses that would make a terrific movie. (Netgalley review)

everlasting noraEverlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz. Nora is a little girl who lives in a shantytown inside a Manila (Philippines) cemetery — she and her mother actually live inside the mausoleum where her father is buried. The book goes into extensive detail of what it’s like for the homeless who live in the cemeteries, which is a real thing in Manila. Nora and a friend try to find her mother, who disappeared one day, while Nora does her best to hold down the menial job she has to keep herself and her mother, a compulsive gambler, fed. This is an intense story with themes of addiction, organized crime, and violence. For middle-grade readers. (Netgalley review)

It looks like the big theme in YA/middle-grade this year is going to be kids living in home-insecure situations (either homeless or close to it.) I had 3 Netgalleys this summer on that subject alone.

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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.

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 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Making sense of the church crisis

I don’t want to read about it.

But I know I have to. (And not just because I work in Catholic media.)

Even before the Pennsylvania grand jury report was released, the sex-abuse scandal in the Church was back on my radar screen. That’s because Cardinal McCarrick served in two New Jersey diocese. He presided at my husband’s Confirmation.

Before the grand jury report was released, my pastor dedicated his bulletin column to this difficult topic. He shared his disgust and how the first sex-abuse scandal had affected his priesthood. He called for our parish to participate in a 54-day Rosary novena, beginning August 15.

I’ve been reading about it, and trying to pray, and trying to figure out what it will mean for a Church that’s largely empty already — largely due to the first round of scandals in 2002.

Since 2006 I have been VIRTUS-certified so that I could volunteer and substitute-teach in a Catholic school. I have had to attend the class (which, having also been through the Boy Scouts’ Youth Protection Training, was less informative than the class the BSA offered). I’ve had to go to the really sketchy places in semi-abandoned industrial parks every 3 years to get my fingerprints done. (How sketchy, you ask? How about so creepy-people-in-the-elevator-sketchy, you think it’ll be safer to take the stairs on the way out — because at least you can run if you’re on the stairs? Yeah, that sketchy.) And to be honest, I haven’t had the best attitude about all of that, because I feel like I was being treated like a criminal because some other people were criminals.

I tried to turn that attitude around by praying for the victims and, yes, even for the criminals (they need prayers too) but I still feel that the rest of us were punished for the actions of a few.

But if that’s as much as this has touched me, I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I cannot imagine the torment the victims and their families have experienced.

I feel like something is broken in the Church and it’s not something I have the power to fix.

I’m very unsatisfied by the statement of the New Jersey bishops, as well as the bishop of my own diocese. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that we need more than platitudes and talk of best.

We need shepherds, not CEOs.

Especially right now.

On Thursday, when I went to Adoration and took my rosary out of the little pouch, it was broken. That nearly undid me. Maybe I was reading too much into it, but that broken rosary (which was all in one piece the week before when I’d prayed it at Adoration) was a symbol, for me, of the brokenness we are experiencing now. So I sat there using my fingernails to try to repair the links, since I don’t generally bring pliers to the Adoration Chapel. I had to make it whole before I could begin to pray.

I will not stop going to Mass. I think we need to pray harder than ever right now. We need all the grace we can get. The criminals are not the Church. The bishops are not the Church. The Pope is not the Church. They are all part of it, but they are not all of it, and there is too much that is good in it to toss out the whole thing because of the bad stuff.

Helpful Resources

(to be updated)

The National Catholic Register ran an interview with seminary professor Janet Smith this week. It’s worth the read, especially if you are wondering what you, one lay person in a broken Church, can do right now.

What can the laity do right now?

We should certainly pray and fast and try to keep our faith strong and that of others.

We also need to help other Catholics see how seriously bad the presence of homosexual networks in the Church is. We should write letters to our bishop. We should 1) commend our bishop for the good works he has done 2) demand a clean-up of whatever homosexual network exists in the diocese. Carefully give evidence if we have some prefaced by “I have heard; I don’t know if it is true but I have heard it enough to think queries if not an investigation should be made.” Demand that if there are credible accusations against priests and more evidence is needed, that private investigators need to be hired 3) tell him that if cleaning up the homosexual network means that there will be such a priest shortage that parishes will close and services will be curtailed, say that we will stand by him and support his actions 4) that a lay board be set up to which priests and others can make charges of sexual harassment by the bishop himself and priests and the particularly priests can report any mistreatment from the bishop without fear of reprisals; 5) send the bishop copies of the best articles published expressing lay outrage; 6) promise to pray and fast for him 7) send copies of your letter to DiNardo and the nuncio; 8) get signatures of others who may not be inclined to write; 9) ask for a reply. Be polite but firm. And write again every month until something is done. If we don’t get a satisfactory reply, we need to consider writing to the public newspaper.

Father Willy Raymond, C.S.C., President of Holy Cross Family Ministries (and one of my employers) offered a short prayer for the innocent victims.


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

“Kick Me: Clinging to the hurt”

Last night when we were on our way home from dinner, we stopped to let some people cross in front of us in a parking lot. Hubs recognized them and said, “Isn’t that …” but couldn’t think of their names.

“The people who didn’t call you back when you volunteered,” I shot back, as he tooted his horn and waved in greeting.

My comment came from a place of hurt, but that doesn’t mean it was warranted. I could just as easily have reminded Hubs of their names. But, as I always do, I let that old grudge take over.

My superpower is hanging on to grudges. I’m really good at it. I could write a long essay detailing the many offenses behind my retort, but where would that get me?

Fact is, we’re not part of the in crowd. We don’t belong to the clique. We’re not rich enough or stylish enough or fit enough or beautiful enough. We don’t drink enough or travel enough or own a shore home. And we’ve discovered that in certain settings, people who volunteer but don’t belong to the clique don’t get called upon to help.

That hurts. Deeply. You’d think that now that I’m solidly in middle age, it wouldn’t bother me so much, but you’d be wrong. I’m hurt, and I’m steadily crossing the line into bitter.

Worse, I’ve passed along that bitterness to my kids — I’ve heard echoes of my own pain in their words.

Honestly, hanging on to all that hurt is exhausting. I hold tight to it, thinking that will help. I’m not sure what I think it will help me do.

It won’t make me rich enough or stylish enough or fit enough or beautiful enough.

It won’t get me into a clique that I don’t belong in anyway.

It won’t take away the very real fear that I’ll get hurt again.

I cling to the hurt like it’s a security blanket, hoping it will become a protective armor (or, at the very least, an invisibility cloak.)

But in reality, it’s more like that “kick me” sign the third-grade bully pins on the back of your T-shirt.

Closing myself off from the people who shut me out doesn’t prevent me from getting hurt.

Maybe it’s time to try something new. Anni Harry writes:

At the end of the day, my response to the “cool moms” is what is most important. I can lambaste them, throw shade toward them, or think bad things of them. And, I have to admit, I struggled this past weekend to not give in to excoriating them – both in thought and word.

Yet, every time I began to get angry, there was a calm voice running under the current – pray for them.

I have learned through the past five years that prayer is an amazing thing. When I pray for someone I don’t get along with, or someone who has hurt me, I find myself changing. I am strengthened and given a different perspective. I stop finding fault with the other individual/s, and rather, focus on the contributions I can bring to the world – I focus on being the change I would like to see. So, if you are struggling with another person, I encourage you to join me in praying for them.

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Via Pixabay (2014), CC0 Public Domain

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz