An Open Book: February 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 read last month:

Fiction

When We Were Young and Brave by Hazel Gaynor.

An intense novel set in a boarding school in China during World War II. The students are children of British diplomats and missionaries, for the most part. Mainly focused on one student and one teacher who had met on the boat to the school, the novel follows the entire course of the war and the ways the Chinese nationals and those from other nations who lived in China suffered during the Japanese occupation. It’s a beautiful story of suffering and resilience, and you will need a very light read to follow it up.

Shadows of the White City (The Windy City Saga Book 2) by Jocelyn Green.

Sylvie, a single woman who had dedicated her life to caring for her parents and running the family business, takes in a motherless little girl. All goes well for about 12 years until teenage Rose goes missing during the Chicago World’s Fair. Crime rings, human trafficking, and the hand-to-mouth existence of many late 19th-century immigrants feature prominently in this story of what motherhood really means. Second in a series, but it’s a standalone.

Homestands by Sally Bradley.

I’m not a baseball fan, but I enjoyed this story! Baseball star Mike Connor runs into his ex-wife after he ruins yet another relationship, and discovers that he has a 5-year-old son he never knew about. The story got a little far-fetched as it went along, but it was well-told and an enjoyable read. It’s supposed to be Book 1 of a series, but I can’t find anything else from this author.

Lighter reads (blurbs courtesy of Amazon):

  • The Cupcake Dilemma by Jennifer Rodewald. “It all started with an extra assignment delegated to me at school right before Valentine’s Day… But before we get too far, let me begin by stating this clearly. I was voluntold.” A sweet, funny read.
  • Getting to Yes by Allie Pleiter. “Valentine’s Day is coming. It’s the perfect time for him to pop the question. She’s more than ready, he’s trying to get ready, so why would God throw obstacle after obstacle into the mix?”
  • Change of Heart by Courtney Walsh. “When a public scandal upends Evelyn Brandt’s neatly constructed life, she’s launched on a journey of self-discovery. She finds a new start in the most unlikely place—a picturesque Colorado farm, owned by her estranged friend, Trevor Whitney. Trevor’s unexpected kindness pushes Evelyn to reclaim her dreams, but it also leaves her with many questions, and he’s never been one for sharing.”

YA/Children’s

Middle-grade mystery fans (about age 10 and up) will enjoy The Haunted Cathedral, Book 2 in the Harwood Mysteries series.

Set in 12th-century England, this story can be read as a standalone. Author Antony Barone Kolenc has crafted a compelling mystery featuring Xan, a 12-year-old orphan who has been in the care of a monastery for about a year. When he is forced to travel to the city of Lincoln with Carlo, who was involved in Xan’s parents’ death, Xan faces multiple obstacles that challenge him to forgive — and he learns firsthand the consequences for himself and others when he withholds forgiveness. (Advance review copy received from publisher.)

Catholic Teen Books’ Treasures: Visible and Invisible is the third in a series of short-story collections from a group of 8 authors in various genres.

Unlike the other collections, this one almost feels like a novel because all the stories are linked by a single significant object that passes from the time of St. Patrick into a dystopian future. (Full review coming soon; advance review copy received from the authors.)

Nonfiction

Be Bold in the Broken: How I Found My Courage and Purpose in God’s Unconditional Love by Mary Lenaburg.

I found myself nodding “yes” to so much of what the author says in this book. Mary and I are polar opposites in terms of personality, but I could see myself in quite a few of the personal anecdotes she shared. If you’ve ever felt like you just don’t fit and start questioning what you’re even doing here, this book is for you. (Advance review copy received from publisher; releases March 12)

The Big Hustle: A Boston Street Kid’s Story of Addiction and Redemption by Jim Wahlberg.

This was a gritty, open look at a young man’s path into addiction, crime, and prison, then to faith and a chance at a new life dedicated to helping others in recovery.


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 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz

An Open Book: February 2021

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

The Light of Tara: A Novel of St. Patrick by John Desjarlais. It’s easy to lose yourself in the story of St. Patrick, as told in this historical novel by John Desjarlais. The writing is poetic and you’ll feel as if you’re part of every scene. Desjarlais makes masterful use of dialogue and biblical parallels. Highly recommended. (ARC received from author; longer article coming in March)

The Castleton String Quartet Series by Maddie Evans

This 3-novel series plus a prequel is an excellent sweet romance series suitable for readers high-school age and up. The series tells the story of a string quartet that has grown out of a renowned family-run music school; most main characters in the novels are either children of the school’s founders or star students. Bob Castleton’s rapidly progressing dementia is a family crisis affecting each character deeply as the series goes on. Read in order for best results. A few crossover characters from the author’s Brighthead Running Club series make an appearance, which is a fun touch. (ARCs received from author)

The Rose Keeper by Jennifer Lamont Leo. Clara, a single nurse in midlife, harbors old hurts that prevent her from advancing her career or becoming close with anyone. A young wife of a soldier and her daughter become her neighbors, and slowly she finds a way to open up and let go of those past hurts. A sweet, captivating story of healing wounds and releasing burdens 3 decades old. Great secondary characters too. Highly recommended. (ARC received from author; this book will release mid-March)

Courting Peace by Lisa Lawmaster Hess. This book wraps up a series about strong women (and young women) finding their place in the world. While Marita puzzles over whether she has a future with the youth pastor, Bets finally appears to be settling down and Charli finds herself in the confusing stages of a first teenage love. Meanwhile, Angel wrestles with new parenthood and an absent husband, who’s aggravating even his doting family. I’ll miss the vivid characters from this series; it’s been a fun read.

Ellen Foster and The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons. Read these in order (it matters!). A heartbreaking story of a child living hand-to-mouth in appalling circumstances in the midcentury American South, the series continues with Ellen’s life as a teenager in a foster family, finding her way to fulfilling her dreams of a Harvard education.

YA/Children’s

The Circus of Stolen Dreams by Lorelei Savaryn. Yes, it’s for middle-grade kids, but don’t let that stop you. This book features beautiful prose and a compelling story. Andrea’s life hasn’t been the same since her brother disappeared; when she gets the chance to escape into the world of Reverie from the woods near her home, she jumps at it, only to discover that this dream world is not anything like it was promised to be. But she refuses to leave until she finds her brother.

Nonfiction

A Time to Seek: Meaning, Purpose, and Spirituality at Midlife by Susan Pohlman is a combination spiritual/travel memoir of a mom working to come to terms with her emptying nest. With the excuse of accompanying her college-age daughter to Florence to help her get settled for a semester abroad, Pohlman spends a week or so traveling the area alone: contemplating in cathedrals, chapels, and cemeteries; detouring to art museums; pondering her next steps and how her family relationships have changed. There are more questions than answers, but it’s a relatable memoir for moms in midlife. (ARC received from author)


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!) Although I’ll admit I haven’t really updated this since the fall.

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 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz

New Spiritual Reads for Lent

Lent begins on February 17 this year: it’s time to purchase your Lenten spiritual reads so you’ll be off to a good start on Ash Wednesday. I have an enormous pile of spiritual books on my desk that are either specific to Lent or suitable for Lent. You’re sure to find something for yourself or your family.

While we’re not all able to gather in churches as usual for Mass, Stations of the Cross, and other devotions, we can feed our souls through spiritual reading and pray the Stations of the Cross at home or in outdoor meditation areas. This Lent, we may need to be creative in finding ways to deepen our faith.

Lenten Prayer Journal

Surrender All: An Illuminated Journal Retreat through the Stations of the Cross by Jen Norton (Ave Maria Press). Don’t be afraid to write in this beautiful journal. Jen Norton provides the art, which includes some lettered Scripture verses as well as paintings of each of the Stations of the Cross. For each station, there is a Scripture reading, a two-page reflection, and a “creative illuminations” section where you’re invited to express your thoughts either through visual art or by writing in the spaces provided.

Daily Devotions

Praying with Jesus and Faustina during Lent and in Times of Suffering by Susan Tassone (Sophia Institute Press). This prayer book is comprised of several sections:

  • Daily devotions beginning on Shrove Tuesday and ending on Divine Mercy Sunday (including readings from St. Faustina’s Diary and a prayer)
  • Meditations on the Passion and the Way of the Cross
  • Taking Refuge in the Wounds of Jesus
  • Uniting our Sufferings with Our Lady’s
  • Litanies for Lent and in Times of Suffering
  • Jesus and St. Faustina on Making a Good Confession

Susan Tassone’s thorough knowledge of St. Faustina Kowalska’s Diary and her devotion to prayer for the suffering souls in Purgatory enrich her writing. Each day’s readings are approximately one page in length; you’ll also find directions for praying the Divine Mercy Novena and other devotions.

The Living Gospel: Daily Devotions for Lent 2021 by Theresa Rickard, O.P. (Ave Maria Press). This pocket-size, two-page-per-day devotional is an excellent day starter or lunchtime read. Each day’s selection includes a reference to the daily Mass readings – so keep your Bible handy while you read. Following the Scripture reading, a short reflection connecting the reading to our everyday lives follows, along with a suggested action and closing prayer.

For the Kids

Living Faith Kids: What We Do in Lent by Connie Clark (Creative Communications for the Parish). Help your early readers (ages 5 and up) understand what Lent is all about with this sticker booklet that explains Ash Wednesday, the Lenten calendar, ways to pray during Lent (and anytime), fasting and abstaining from meat, almsgiving, and more Lenten practices. The booklet includes many activities families can do at home to enrich their faith together.

The Stations of the Cross

Contemplating the Way of the Cross: A Personal Encounter with Our Crucified Lord by Mary Leonora Wilson, FSP (Pauline Books & Media). Place yourself in the scene of each station, pondering what it was like for Jesus and those with him, then read the meditation and short prayer. A verse of the Stabat Mater closes each of the stations.

Stations of the Cross for Kids by Regina Doman; illustrated by Chris Lewis (TAN Books). A bit of behind-the-scenes information about each station, holy relics, and historical events related to some of the places mentioned in the Stations of the Cross will fascinate curious young readers (and their parents!). This retelling of the Stations of the Cross is ideal for readers in fourth grade through middle school and includes Scripture verses, lyrics to the Stabat Mater, and a short meditation on each station along with prompts to pray an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be. The detailed illustrations provide context.

Living Faith Kids: Praying the Stations of the Cross by Mark Nielsen (Creative Communications for the Parish). Younger readers (ages 5 through 10) will appreciate this short journey through the Stations of the Cross, which includes the traditional opening prayer for each station, an age-appropriate description of what was happening at each station, a short meditation, and a closing prayer. This booklet includes stickers to be placed beside the prayer for each station.

Saint Stories for the Whole Family

A Storybook of Saints by Elizabeth Hanna Pham (Sophia Institute Press). While this book is designed to be read on the feast days of the saints included in it, there’s no reason children ages 7 and up can’t enjoy this book during Lent. Short biographies of 50 saints are complemented by simple line drawings designed to resemble holy cards. Enjoy this book as a family by reading about a saint each day, perhaps after school or after dinner.

I’m a Saint in the Making by Lisa M. Hendey (Paraclete Press). Lent is the perfect time to underscore the message in this book for grownups as well as kids: saints are superheroes, and we are called by God to be heroes too. Every saint is both a role model and a prayer champion, Lisa maintains, and in language simple enough for kids (without ever talking down to them) she demonstrates how they can strive for both those goals in their everyday lives. A wonderful variety of saints, from the days of the early Church through modern times, is represented. Illustrations are fun, inclusive, and engaging, and include many wonderful details about the saints discussed in the book. 

For Teens and Young Adults

Hope. Always. Our Anchor in Life’s Storms by Kris Frank (Pauline Books & Media). Catholic youth minister Kris Frank offers reflections on finding hope in difficult times in this honest, relatable book that doesn’t insult the intelligence of teens and college students. Discussion questions at the end of each chapter can be used by youth groups, small faith-sharing groups, or as journal prompts for individual readers.

Poetry

Victory! Poems by Jake Frost. CatholicMom contributor Jake Frost ponders Palm Sunday and the Garden of Gethsemane in two poems in this volume of short verse. Historical notes provide context for some of the poems included.

Chesterton 101

Ex Libris: G.K. Chesterton by Dale Ahlquist (Pauline Books & Media). This introduction to the nonfiction work of G.K. Chesterton is organized by topic and features selections on wonder; innocence; goodness; purity; faith, hope, and charity; the Christian ideal; everyday holiness; and joy. Each brief excerpt includes the name of the book or essay where it originated, so you can look into reading more by this beloved 20th-century writer. Lent is an excellent time to dig into the writing of a new-to-you spiritual thinker.

Back Issues

Check out the Lenten spiritual reading I’ve recommended previously:

Last Call for Lenten Reading

Four for Lent

What’s New for Lent

3 Lenten Reads

Lenten Resources from Ave Maria Press


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author. 

Stories of the Saints: A Giveaway of a Bold and Inspiring Book

Do you want to help your children understand that saints are not simply people who sit around and pray all the time? A new book of saint stories underscores the fascinating stories of some of the best-known saints. Stories of the Saints by Carey Wallace, illustrated by Nick Thornborrow, is subtitled “Bold and Inspiring Tales of Adventure, Grace, and Courage” – and it delivers.

From the Introduction:

Saints aren’t born better or braver than the rest of us . … Saints aren’t people who are always good and never afraid. They’re people who believe there must be more to life than just what we can see. This world may be hard and unfair, but saints believe in a God who is bigger than the world, whose law is love, and whose justice is mercy. And this faith gives them courage: to stand up to evil kings, to care for people everyone else forgets or hates, to slay dragons. … Led by their faith, they actually bring the better world to be, and invite us all in.

(ix)

The stories of 70 saints (71, actually, since Perpetua and Felicity’s stories are told together) are told in this oversized book that’s a perfect read-aloud for children 6 and up, and just right for independent readers in 4th grade and up. At the beginning of each saint’s story, you’ll find a box listing their vital stats: year of birth and death, location(s) where the saint lived and worked, emblem (something the saint is often depicted with in art), patronage, and feast day. The saints in this book are listed in chronological order by year of birth.

Which saints are featured in Stories of the Saints? Bishops with healing powers (Blaise), princesses who helped the poor (Margaret of Scotland), visionaries who pioneered a beloved form of prayer (Dominic), a pope who quit his job and was imprisoned by his replacement (Celestine V), a priest who was tortured rather than break the secrecy of the confessional (John Nepomucene), an artist who cried every time he painted a picture of the cross of Christ (Fra Angelico), a young woman who found a buried sword and saved her country (Joan of Arc), a priest who cared for slaves as they arrived in Colombia (Peter Claver), and many more.

The illustrations in this oversized hardcover book are done in a bold, modern style that evokes the active love the saints showed for God through their deeds.

Would you like to win a copy of Stories of the Saints for your young reader? To enter, leave a comment with the name of your favorite bold and inspiring saint.

One winner will be drawn from entries in the comments of this blog and comments on social media. One entry per person per platform: you can enter here, on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram on my posts about the book on those platforms.

This giveaway is open to winners with an address in the USA. Contest closes at noon Eastern on Friday, December 18. Winner will be notified by email or direct message (if winning entry was made on social media) and will have 48 hours to claim the prize. If prize is unclaimed, an alternate winner will be chosen. Prize will not likely be delivered in time for Christmas but I’ll do my best to get it mailed as soon as possible.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images courtesy of Workman Publishing. All rights reserved.
This article contains Amazon affiliate links. Your purchase through these links benefits my work.
I received a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions are my own.

Distracted by St. Joseph

Lately, during the quiet prayer time after Communion, something has been catching my eye. At this time of year, the sun slants just right to cast brilliant reflections from one of the stained glass windows onto a century-old statue of St. Joseph.

I’ve never really paid attention to that statue before.

To be honest, I’ve never really paid attention to St. Joseph before.

But in that quiet time, I look at that statue and I think about the saint. I reel in my thoughts from where they are trying to wander (I’m a mom, and a multitasker, and my thoughts are always wandering) and I think about what St. Joseph has to teach me.

This has been a fruitful distraction. After all, I could contemplate far worse things after Communion than what I can learn from a saint.

Everything we know about St. Joseph shows his caring love, his protectiveness, his sacrificial nature. Without saying a word, he shows us how to live.

Many times, we put our saints in boxes. Mary is a saint for women, and particularly mothers, we think. Men, and particularly fathers, have St. Joseph. And of course Mary is a beautiful patroness for women and mothers, and St. Joseph a wonderful patron for men and fathers.

But why should we limit the saints in that way?

Today, Pope Francis has proclaimed a Year of St. Joseph, beginning today (December 8, 2020) through December 8, 2021. The pope has also released an apostolic letter about St. Joseph, titled Patris Corde (With a Father’s Heart), and I am going to make it my business to read it in the days ahead.

Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. A word of recognition and of gratitude is due to them all.

(Pope Francis, Patris Corde, Dec. 8, 2020)

We have so much to learn from St. Joseph. Seek out ways he is portrayed in art — like the statue in my church. Most statues show St. Joseph carrying carpenter’s tools, but not this one. In this statue, he holds the toddler Jesus in one arm, and Jesus is grasping his other hand in that way young children do when they’re being held by someone they love and trust.

God trusted St. Joseph with the care of the Holy Family. We, too, can trust St. Joseph.

This year, let yourself be distracted by St. Joseph. Let him lead you to Jesus.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photo copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

Devotionals: A Gift that Lasts All Year

Devotionals are wonderful spiritual gifts for friends and family members. These beautiful books offer food for the soul; the three daily devotionals are all saint-focused, and the weekly devotional is designed with busy women in mind. You’re sure to find one to add to your gift list (or your own wish list).

In Caelo et in Terra: 365 Days with the Saints

by the Daughters of St. Paul (Pauline Books & Media)

This big, beautiful book of the saints is a collaborative effort of the Daughters of St. Paul, often nicknamed the “media nuns.” Their mission is to spread God’s word and make disciples through a variety of media, including writing and publishing.

In Caelo et in Terra features a saint for each day (and contrary to the subtitle, they’ve covered February 29 as well). As the book is larger than an average hardcover (about 7X10 inches), there’s plenty of space to include two substantial paragraphs about the life of each day’s saint on the page, along with a short reflection (with a great journaling prompt) and a prayer. Information on the saint’s patronage and feast day are included. You’ll also find a robust index, which lists the saints by name, liturgical feast day, and patronage – so this is a reference book as well as a devotional.

Each page is beautifully embellished not only with designs of leaves and clouds, which symbolize earth and heaven, but also with drawings of the saint of the day or sacred symbols related to that saint. The interior art, by Sr. Danielle VIctoria Lussier, FSP (who also designed the cover), is done in a consistent style that is simple and beautiful without being distracting.

A great gift for: RCIA and Confirmation candidates, teenage godchildren, and any teen or adult.


Brotherhood of Saints: Daily Guidance and Inspiration

by Melanie Rigney (Franciscan Media)

Melanie Rigney has a special love for sharing stories of the saints. In Brotherhood of Saints, a page-a day devotional for men, she has gathered the stories of 366 saints — ranging from the well-known and beloved Peter, Paul, Anthony of Padua, and John Paul II to more obscure but no less inspiring holy men. This book includes many men canonized within the past 50 years, such as Francisco Marto, Oscar Romero, and Louis Martin.

Following a paragraph about each saint’s life and a short analysis of how this saint is an example for us today, each daily entry contains an inspiring quote either written by the saint himself or from Scripture, and a challenge — a call to action. While all the saints in Brotherhood of Saints are men, women will find their stories equally inspiring.

A great gift for: the men in your life. Dads, grandfathers, brothers, teenage and young-adult sons, and RCIA and Confirmation candidates.


Sisterhood of Saints: Daily Guidance and Inspiration

by Melanie Rigney (Franciscan Media)

The sister volume to Brotherhood of Saints, this book was published in 2013.

Sisterhood of Saints spotlights 366 female saints, many of whom are little-known but far from little in their holiness. Of course, the book begins on January 1 with the Blessed Virgin Mary and includes Sts. Thérèse of Lisieux, Clare of Assisi, and Catherine of Siena, among other well-known saintly women. But author Melanie Rigney gives equal time to the lesser-known saints whose stories of virtue, sanctity, and challenges overcome will inspire any reader.

Following a paragraph about each saint’s life and a short analysis of how this saint is an example for us today, each daily entry in Sisterhood of Saints contains an inspiring quote either written by the saint herself or from Scripture, and a challenge — a call to action.

A great gift for: any woman, including teenagers, RCIA and Confirmation candidates.

Are you giving Christmas gifts to a couple (perhaps newlyweds)? This pair of books would make a lovely gift for the two of them!


Awaken My Heart: 52 Weeks of Giving Thanks and Loving Abundantly

by Emily Wilson Hussem (Ave Maria Press)

If you prefer a weekly devotional with a slightly longer (but still totally do-able, even for the busiest woman) format, Emily Wilson Hussem recently published a yearly devotional for women. Awaken My Heart: 52 Weeks of Giving Thanks and Loving Abundantly offers reflections designed to inspire moments of prayer during the week ahead.

Each of the 52 entries in this book runs about 4 pages and begins with a personal reflection by the author, who shares her own vulnerabilities before gently leading readers to prayerfully consider how God calls them to love themselves and others more deeply. Following the reflection, a Soul Exercise invites you to take time in the coming week to ponder, pray, and journal about that week’s topic. A short prayer concludes each week’s entry, and a simple border evoking bouquets of flowers runs along the bottom of every page.

Some of the topics covered in Awaken My Heart include jealousy, body image, fear, loving the elderly, choosing to change, saying no, giving thanks, becoming childlike, and letting go.

Carve out 30 minutes each week to sip your favorite hot beverage and ponder “how to live life present to the bountiful gifts God provides. … He leaves bouquets of blessings on every surface of our lives, and it’s up to us to notice.”

A great gift for: women of every age (college and up) who would like to live more intentionally instead of being carried along by the everyday distractions of our busy lives.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author. 
I purchased In Caelo et in Terra; all other books were review copies provided by the author or publisher. Opinions expressed here are my own; no compensation was provided for these reviews.

Gather Together: Recipes for Fellowship

The ultimate challenge in 2020 might be releasing a book about the blessings of gathering as friends … in the same week that several states restricted such gatherings to 10 or fewer — and some cities even prohibited getting together with anyone outside the household.

But we Catholics are people of hope. We know that these measures will not last forever, and we eagerly anticipate the day when we can gather outside our household or social bubble to enjoy food, fun, and fellowship.

In the meantime, there’s no point in wasting any of the wonderful recipes you’ll find in Catherine Fowler Sample’s new cookbook, Gather Together. I always recommend that you try a recipe on your family before serving it to guests — so now’s the time to taste-test these dishes, make note of any “to taste” seasoning adjustments you made, and bookmark the ones you’ll want to use when (finally!) you can invite friends over for a meal or afternoon tea.

In the Introduction, the author offers a few creative ideas for making connections with family and friends we can’t see in person:

You could make the recipes with loved ones over video chat, or plan an evening of reflection by phone based on the questions and prayer prompts. While distance makes forming community more challenging, the consistency of intentional connection can be a unique balm during uncertain times.

I firmly believe that the best kind of cookbook is one I can read like a novel or memoir. Gather Together is that kind of cookbook. Each chapter begins with a story from the author’s life, along with a spiritual reflection, a prayer for gathering, a few conversation prompts, and a soup-to-nuts themed menu for brunch, dinner, or afternoon tea. Each menu offers at least four dishes including dessert. 

Gather Together, which releases Friday, November 20, was written with both the cook’s and the guests’ needs in mind. Author Catherine Fowler Sample anticipated the possibility of substitution of certain ingredients containing dairy, as well as where in your grocery store you should look to find specialty ingredients. There are also prep-ahead tips, and along with ingredient lists for each recipe, there’s a list of kitchen equipment needed. That’s a feature I almost never find in cookbooks (and I have a big collection of cookbooks) — but whether you’re a beginner cook or very confident in the kitchen, having this list handy saves you time. When I taught my children to cook, I told them to always get everything in place (ingredients and equipment) before you start. Gather Together makes all of that easy.

If you think the cover is beautiful, wait until you see what’s on the inside of this book! Gather Together would make a wonderful engagement or wedding gift; it’s also perfect for a young person moving to his or her first apartment. But since it’s about building community as much as cooking, this cookbook is an excellent housewarming gift as well.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author.
I received a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation, for this review. All opinions are my own.

Pre-Advent Giveaway!

Is Advent coming up faster than you expected it to this year? It’s like that for me, for sure. While I can’t help you with the pink and purple candles, I’m happy to say that thanks to my friends at Creative Communications for the Parish, I have 10 Advent prize packs to offer readers this year (plus 3 bonus prizes)!

Wonderful Life in Christ prize pack from Creative Communications for the Parish
(Advent wreath and gift bag not included in the prize)

Wonderful Life in Christ prize

This prize pack includes:

Our Greatest Gift: A Wonderful Life in Christ by Michael Hoy, a page-a-day devotional based on the scenes and themes of the Christmas classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life, placing the events of the fictional George Bailey story in the context of our faith.

Hear the Angels Sing! Christmas carol sticker book

Hark, the Herald Angels Sing by Stephanie Hovland, a daily prayer book for Advent based on the angel messages in the Old and New Testament.

Prayer bookmark for Advent


Prince of Peace prize pack from Creative Communications for the Parish
(Advent wreath and gift bag not included in the prize)

Prince of Peace prize pack

This prize pack includes:

Sarah Reinhard’s new booklet, Prince of Peace, offers four weeks of family devotions and related activities. The Advent themes of hope, peace, joy, and love are embodied in a weekly activity focused on helping others. 

Heavenly Peace, an Advent daily prayer devotional by Sarah Thomas Tracy, written to prepare readers for the coming peace of Christ.

Advent wreath table tent (no candles required!) with mealtime prayers for each week of Advent.

What Do I Wonder About Christmas? This set of 25 daily trivia cards are fun at meal time or to end the school day.

Prayer card and Prince of Peace ornament


I also have three bonus copies of Prince of Peace to give away!

To enter: Leave a comment on this post or on the posts on Facebook or Instagram stating your biggest Advent challenge.

More opportunities to be entered to win these prizes will be offered on social media, so be sure to visit the posts at the accounts linked above for bonus chances to win!

The fine print: This giveaway is open to winners in the USA only. This giveaway closes at 6 AM Eastern on Tuesday, November 17. 13 winners will be chosen at random and will be notified by email (for winners on this blog) or by direct message on Facebook or Instagram. Winners will have 48 hours to reply with their mailing address; unclaimed prizes will be awarded to alternate winners.

Image created in Visme.co

Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photos of prizes provided by Creative Communications for the Parish

#OpenBook: My October 2020 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.

Sorry for the crazy big images, but free WordPress has forced me to use Blocks, and I can’t figure out how to put images into a paragraph in the size I want. (And at this point, I’m not in the mood to fight with it.)

Fiction

Things We Didn’t Say by Amy Lynn Green
I can never resist an epistolary novel and this is one of the best I’ve read. Chronicling just under a year in the life of a brilliant linguistics scholar toward the end of World War II, this story takes a hard look at our nation’s treatment of entire ethnic groups while we were at war with their native country. Effectively forced to work as a translator in a POW work camp in rural Minnesota, Jo Berglund, who had befriended an American young man of Japanese descent at the university, finds herself in an impossible position because of her insistence on seeing the German prisoners not as a collective enemy tool but as individual human beings. (Netgalley review)

The Christmas Table by Donna VanLiere (Christmas Hope, #10)
A poignant Christmas tale involving two families and one table. In 1972, a young husband begins building a kitchen table for his wife, who eagerly begins learning to cook using her mother’s memories. The table – with those same recipes still in the drawer – shows up in a secondhand furniture shop nearly five decades later, and its new owner is determined to get those recipes back to the family where they belong, learning a sad family story in the process. (Netgalley review)

The Words Between Us by Erin Bartels
Robin Windsor, who’s been living under a sort of self-imposed witness protection program since her parents were imprisoned while she was a teenager, finds her carefully protected life upended when she begins receiving books related to a time in her life she’d rather forget. As she strives to save her struggling indie bookshop, she endeavors to preserve her anonymity and keep old memories from taking over. A compelling story I’d be happy to reread.

The Dress Shop on King Street (Heirloom Secrets #1) by Ashley Clark
A vintage gown, two antique buttons, and an embroidered flour sack are the only clues to a mystery involving a biracial slave girl sold away from her mother at the age of 9, a young woman in the post-WWII South trying to pass as white, and a present-day college student trying to make it as a fashion designer. Two sweet love stories and heartbreaking family secrets make this a tough book to put down. (Netgalley review; releases 12/1)

Circle of Quilters (Elm Creek Quilts #9) by Jennifer Chiaverini
This was my first time dipping back into the Elm Creek Quilts series in several years. The author skillfully interweaves the stories of a group of applicants vying for two open teaching positions at the Elm Creek Quilt retreat. An enjoyable novel (and series) with characters who are talented, but who show their human side. Definitely requires the reader to be familiar with the series.

YA/Children’s

I’m a Saint in the Making by Lisa M. Hendey, illustrated by Katie Broussard
This children’s book has a message for grownups as well as kids: saints are superheroes, and we are called by God to be heroes too. Every saint is both a role model and a prayer champion, Lisa maintains, and in language simple enough for kids (without ever talking down to them) she demonstrates how they can strive for both those goals in their everyday lives. A wonderful variety of saints, from the days of the early Church through modern times, is represented. Illustrations are fun, inclusive, and engaging, and include many wonderful details about the saints discussed in the book.

The Spider Who Saved Christmas by Raymond Arroyo, illustrated by Randy Gallegos.
Readers familiar with Charlotte’s Web will enjoy another story in which a friendly spider selflessly takes risks to save someone else. Unlike most stories that feature “saves Christmas” in their title, The Spider Who Saved Christmas isn’t about removing obstacles that threaten to prevent Santa’s delivery of gifts to children. Instead, it’s about a lowly creature willingly accepting a dangerous mission to save the Son of God. Not only does this book tell a wonderful story, it’s an excellent catechetical tool for the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Read my full review.

Nonfiction

Let Go of Anger and Stress! Be Transformed by the Fruits of the Holy Spirit by Gary Zimak.
This book explores each of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit (found in Galatians 5:22-23) and demonstrates how living out the Fruits of the Spirit in mind can change our lives. Anger and stress are the opposite of the Fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control), and Gary discusses how yielding control of our lives to the Holy Spirit will give us the grace to resist the temptation to give in to stress and anger. (Review copy provided by publisher.) Read my full review.

Complaints of the Saints: Stumbling Upon Holiness with a Crabby Mystic by Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP.
With each of the 66 chapters running just over two pages, Complaints of the Saints is an excellent spiritual read for people who don’t think they have time for spiritual reading. The last section of the book emphasizes our call to do better: to follow the holy example of the saints who, we have seen throughout the book, have lived with difficulties and challenges and learned to handle those with grace. Sr. Mary Lea offers concrete ideas at the end of each chapter that will help us channel our negativity in a better direction. (Review copy provided by 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.

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!

Praying for the Souls in Purgatory: A Rosary, a Novel, and a Prayer Book

I was called on to sing at a funeral Mass one day this past summer, and after I read the obituary it became clear that the death was due to addiction. Sadly, this is not the first in that family to die in this way. These are not people I know, but they live in my neighborhood.

On the night before the funeral, I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night and that was on my mind. I couldn’t go back to sleep because I kept thinking about it, so I decided to pray a Rosary. On the bedside table, I had a knotted-twine Rosary made for me by a friend.

I dedicated that Rosary for the repose of the soul of that recently deceased young man.

As soon as I finished the whole Rosary, I went right off to sleep. I guess I was not being let off the hook — I needed to pray for him right that minute.

In the morning before the funeral, I got in touch with the friend who had made that Rosary for me, and asked her to pray too.

An urgent impulse to pray for a soul who has clearly struggled in life is not something we should ignore. And who better to intercede for such a soul than the Blessed Mother — our Mother?

As we commemorate the holy souls this month, let’s remember them in our prayers, especially in the Rosary.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.


Scared straight: but with Purgatory.

The story above reminds me of Theresa Linden’s novel, Tortured Soul, a compelling tale of a haunting — with a twist. Jeannie Lyons is pushed out of her family’s home by her older brother and into a remote cottage that also houses a gruesome “presence.” Afraid to be at home, but with nowhere else to go, Jeannie enlists the help of the sort-of-creepy guy her brother had once pushed her to date. This edge-of-the-seat story of guilt and forgiveness emphasizes the importance of praying for the souls of the deceased — and would make a great movie.

Tortured Soul reminded me deeply that the deceased need our prayers — not only our deceased loved ones and friends, but in particular those who have no one to pray for them. Maybe they were alienated from family during their lives, as depicted in Linden’s novel; maybe their loved ones don’t pray. But we can, and we should.


Susan Tassone’s The Saint Faustina Prayer Book for the Holy Souls in Purgatory focuses on the power of intercessory prayer for the needs of the Holy Souls in Purgatory.

The Saint Faustina Prayer Book for the Holy Souls in Purgatory contains more than prayers. You’ll also find essays on conversion, sin, penance, Purgatory and the spirituality of St. Faustina Kowalska. Organized by theme, the book leads the reader through learning and devotions.


Download a free set of printable bookmarks with the prayer for the holy souls, and make a commitment to pray for them every day.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was provided a free review copy of Susan Tassone’s book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.