On Barb’s Bookshelf: Theology of Home

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

I wanted this to be a lifestyle book.

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

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

It’s time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On Barb’s Bookshelf: 61 Minutes to a Miracle

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

61 Minutes

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

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

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

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

Barb's Book shelf blog title


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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

#OpenBook: Summer 2019

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

Fiction

BecalmedBecalmed by Normandie Fischer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

Just One KissJust One Kiss by Courtney Walsh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

Bridge of Scarlet LeavesBridge of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

Sold on a MondaySold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

YA/Children’s

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

Waiting with ElmerWaiting with Elmer by Deanna K. Klingel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

Nonfiction

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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


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

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

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

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


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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

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

know thyself-a

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

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

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

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

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

KNOW THYSELF book review Franciscanmom.com
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Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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

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

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

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

Read. Pause. Listen. Repeat.

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

15 Spirituals

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

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

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

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


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

Daily Prayer Inspiration from St. Faustina

Tassone book review

There’s a lot more to the spiritual legacy of St. Faustina Kowalska besides the popular Divine Mercy chaplet. But for a long time I’d shied away from reading her writing, figuring that it would be complicated and intimidating. Aside from quotes in other spiritual books, I haven’t read her Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul.

Susan Tassone, well-known for her other writing on Purgatory, Adoration, and Divine Mercy, has taken St. Faustina’s Diary and made it accessible in a new daily devotional from Sophia Institute Press. Day by Day with Saint Faustina: 365 Reflections is a page-per-day devotional that bridges the gap between the spiritual and the practical.

Day by Day St Faustina

While the monthly sections of the book are not organized by theme, Susan’s choice of readings for each day of the year are often informed by the liturgical calendar. Each day’s reflection is made up of three parts: a quote from the Diary, a short reflection (just a few sentences) that’s instructional and also a call to action or sometimes a quote from Scripture, and a simple prayer to wrap it up.

The simplicity of Susan’s writing is an excellent foil to the more formal style characteristic of St. Faustina. Susan has the ability to get to the heart of the message in each selection and frame it in language that inspires, edifies, and motivates. For example, here’s the closing prayer for Sunday, July 21’s reflection:

Thank you, Lord, that I don’t have to understand Your peace in order to receive it.
Jesus, I trust in You.

Why are we talking about a daily devotional in the middle of the year? Why not? You can start praying with this devotional anytime you like (that’s what bookmarks are for!), so there’s no need to feel that you must wait until January to add Day by Day with Saint Faustina to your daily prayer time.


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

#OpenBook: June 2019 Reads

open book logo

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 (hint: there’s been a bit of a fiction binge lately).

Fiction

Pearl of Great PricePearl of Great Price by Myra Johnson

A job in the family business in a small town suits Julie Pearl Stiles just fine, but when she realizes she may be at the center of a long-ago tragedy, she begins to wonder about her real identity. This story of suffering, friendship, mental illness, romance, and figuring out one’s place in the world will hook you from the start.

Ever Faithful: A Vintage National Parks Novel (Shadows of the Wilderness)Ever Faithful: A Vintage National Parks Novel by Karen Barnett.

All the local color you could want in a novel. This Depression-era story, set in Yellowstone National Park, sets a vivid scene as backdrop for a blossoming romance between a Brooklyn-born CCC worker and a young local woman working hard to achieve her goal of becoming a teacher. Both are wounded in their own ways. A mystery creates enough intrigue (with plausible red herrings) to keep you reading. I’ll look for more from this author!

The Sisters of Summit AvenueThe Sisters of Summit Avenue by Lynn Cullen

“Two sisters bound together by love, duty, and pain” – from the blurb. SO MUCH PAIN. The pain was overwhelmingly palpable. Ruth and her 4 daughters barely keep the family farm running during the Depression; her husband was felled several years ago by encephalitis lethargica. Her sister June is one of the “Bettys” — women developing recipes and answering letters to Betty Crocker. And their mother Dorothy is practically a recluse, hiding from the secrets of her past. Plenty of plot twists and infidelities, and the split-time story line can get a bit confusing. And then there’s that cheap trope where one of the characters wants to write a book, and you discover that you’re reading the book they’re writing. (Netgalley review; available August 2019.)

The Road She Left BehindThe Road She Left Behind by Christine Nolfi

Old family dramas and a lifetime of hurts caused Darcy, burdened by guilt over an accident that killed her father and sister, to flee her family’s estate, abandoning her sister’s baby, Emerson, to the mother Darcy couldn’t wait to escape. 8 years later, Emerson disappears, and Darcy is called back to her family home to help find the young boy and make amends to the boyfriend she left behind years ago. A good story with great secondary characters.

Like Never Before (Walker Family, #2)Like Never Before by Melissa Tagg

When political speechwriter Logan discovers he’s inherited his hometown newspaper, the last thing he wants to do is follow up on that or deal with the ambitious young editor who wants to take over the paper before it’s sold to a conglomerate. But Amelia is chasing a story that has Logan intrigued, and he finds himself trying to untangle Maple Valley’s longtime unsolved mystery, and falling for Amelia in the process. A light, clean summer read; part of an enjoyable series.

All this Time (Walker Family, #4)All this Time by Melissa Tagg

Bear, haunted by a guilty promise he made after his girlfriend’s death, wants to prove himself to her parents in the mission they founded in Brazil. But he’s charged with the care of his nephew and niece, whose parents’ and grandparents’ drug-trade activities put them in danger. He winds up in Maple Valley, where an old crush invites him to stay with her family until his situation stabilizes.

A Place to Belong (Maple Valley)A Place to Belong by Melissa Tagg

This novella provides some back story about Megan and her shop, Coffee Coffee, in the small town of Maple Valley. When Megan meets Eric, owner of a struggling local halfway house, she’s almost ready to put aside a dangerous infatuation from her past – until her baby’s father returns to town. A bit predictable, but fills in the blanks of some of the other Maple Valley novels.

From the Start (Walker Family, #1)From the Start by Melissa Tagg

First in the Walker Family series, this book sets the scene for the quintessential (and a little bit quirky) small town of Maple Valley. Screenwriter/novelist Kate needs a fresh start after disappointments in love and her career, and when she returns to her hometown, she runs into Colton Greene, a sidelined NFL quarterback who needs someone to write his biography as much as he needs a new direction in life after his injuries.

Sister Mary Baruch: The Early YearsSister Mary Baruch: The Early Years by Jacob Restrick

Rebecca Feinstein is drawn to Catholicism through a friend, and while she’s still a college student, she decides to convert from Judaism and, later, to enter a cloistered Dominican monastery. Various family members react in different ways, but a rift between Rebecca and much of her family continues throughout the novel. It’s a good story, but it reads as if an elderly man were dictating the book to a transcriber. I was not intrigued enough to continue reading the series.

Jane by the BookJane by the Book by Pepper D. Basham

This romance novella features two overly-formal characters thrown together by a 150-year-old mystery. Buttoned-up inkeeper Jane and impulsive novelist Titus are an unlikely pair as they try to track down the story of one of Jane’s ancestors while both visit Bath, England. Meanwhile, Titus writes Jane into his novel — and she suspects he’s using her. Maybe you need to be an Austen fan to appreciate this better, but I was underwhelmed.

The Road to Paradise (Vintage National Parks, #1)The Road to Paradise by Karen Barnett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In an attempt to escape the influence of her controlling boyfriend, Margie takes refuge in Mt. Rainier National Park. Her senator father pulls some strings to secure a place for her, but she chooses a remote, tumbledown cabin in order to be closer to nature. Fighting her own fears of her boyfriend when he follows her to the mountain, Margie also battles a rush to development that would destroy the park’s natural beauty — as well as her attraction for a handsome ranger who doesn’t share her faith.

YA/Children’s

Silver Meadows SummerSilver Meadows Summer by Emma Otheguy

11-year-old Carolina grieves her native Puerto Rico, which her family left so they could join relatives in upstate NY. She feels that her family is leaving their heritage behind, trying to fit in to their new place, but all she wants to do is go home and have everything the way it was. She befriends a girl at day camp, and together they find a tumbledown cabin in the woods, which they fix up as a combination hideout/art studio. But their camp, and their studio, are threatened by real-estate developers, and they don’t think middle-schoolers can do anything to stop it. Enjoyable novel for ages 10 and up.

Lucky Broken GirlLucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar

10-year-old Ruthie, a recent immigrant to New York City from Castro’s Cuba, is just finding her way to fit in when she’s in a terrible car accident that leaves her housebound and in a body cast for months. She endures unimaginable loneliness on top of the severe pain from the accident and surgery. This middle-grade semi-autobiographical novel explores the experience of Jewish-Cuban immigrants in the late 1960s.

Nonfiction

The Catholic Working Mom's Guide to LifeThe Catholic Working Mom’s Guide to Life by JoAnna Wahlund

A practical guide bolstered by real-life honesty. The author speaks from her own experience as a Catholic working mom. There are chapters concentrating on specific concerns of moms with infants and very young children, but much of the advice in this book applied to me as well (a full-time, work-from-home mom of a teenager with a young adult also living at home). It’s a good antidote to the Mommy Wars and encouragement to working moms, whether full-time, part-time, split-shift, or what flavor of work schedule describes yours. Many, MANY plugs for the author’s Facebook group, which came off as a bit self-serving. (ARC received from publisher.)

Live Big, Love Bigger: Getting Real with BBQ, Sweet Tea, and a Whole Lotta JesusLive Big, Love Bigger: Getting Real with BBQ, Sweet Tea, and a Whole Lotta Jesus by Kathryn Whitaker

Not what I expected – and that was a good thing! From the blurb, I thought it would be more of a travelogue of the Whitaker family’s barbecue pilgrimage, and that’s not at all the case. Since I’ve never been to Texas nor had barbecue, I didn’t expect to relate to this book. Instead, I found that it’s full of honest talk from a mom who had to learn the hard way a lesson we all need to learn: perfectionism doesn’t get you anywhere. If you have a quiet place to read and a bottomless glass of sweet tea, you’ll easily read your way through this book in an afternoon, but its lessons will stick with you much longer. (ARC received from publisher; available late August 2019.)

EducatedEducated by Tara Westover

A disturbing memoir of a family that was beyond dysfunctional. The author grew up physically and emotionally isolated from others and was never allowed to attend school. Her mentally ill father and codependent mother created an unstable environment for the family that put themselves and their children in danger on repeated occasions. The author seems to be trying to move toward a place of healing, but frequently backtracks and undercuts some of her statements by introducing competing accounts from others. This book is enormously popular but I don’t see the attraction, unless you’re after a voyeuristic look into a family life affected by mental illness.

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

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

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

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


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Harmony where there isn’t any

harmony
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In my parish, the music ministry uses three Mass settings: one for Advent and Lent, one for Christmas and Easter, and one for Ordinary Time. This is only the third weekend for us to settle back in with our Ordinary Time settings.

During the “Gloria,” I heard one of the other musicians in our group singing the beginnings of a harmony line. It sounded good, and after we finished singing I whispered to him to let him know that.

“Thanks,” he replied. “I like putting harmony where there isn’t any.”

Once the congregation is secure in singing the melody for a new song, we musicians feel comfortable adding harmonies. If there are enough of us to carry the melody, we’ll layer in two or three harmony lines. It’s fun to do, and it adds to the beauty of the music.

But there’s more to harmony than that. When you add harmony where there isn’t any, you put your own stamp on the tune. You place your individual gift at the service of the whole. By itself, harmony doesn’t work. There needs to be melody, and that melody needs to be strong. Done right, the harmony behind that melody won’t overpower it, but will instead support it in sometimes undetectable but undeniable ways.

Inventing harmony involves listening, creativity, and courage. If you don’t know where the melody is going, you can’t harmonize. You have to hear the music, then imagine another dimension to it. Then you have to take the big step of singing what you hear.

It’s not just about music. If everyone takes the melody part in life, the music is boring.

Where can you put harmony where there isn’t any?

harmony
Image created with Stencil.com.

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Detached”

detached review
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I’m fighting my way through T.J. Burdick’s Detached, which is a good sign that I really needed this book.

Detached: Put Your Phone in Its Place (OSV) challenges readers to rethink how they use their phones. Awareness is key to the whole process, and I’m becoming painfully aware of my own lack of self-discipline when it comes to using my phone.

  • Waiting in line at the supermarket? Check email.
  • Before putting my car key in the ignition? Take a quick peek at Twitter or Facebook.
  • Waiting for the water to boil for tea in the morning? Cue up Instagram.

All those times, there are other, better things I could be doing. I’m not going to say that email and social media are bad things. Facebook and Instagram allow me to keep in touch with my cousins, many of whom live far away, as well as friends old and new. Social media is also job-related for me.

It’s really easy to give in to the temptation to use my phone unnecessarily. I pick up my phone a lot. And I do not intend to get rid of my phone or stop carrying it around with me. Here’s why:

  • My husband and kids text me during the day about changes in plans, or with questions about plans.
  • I like being able to check the weather.
  • If I miss a call on our home phone, voicemail forwards to my phone as a text message, so urgent calls can be answered immediately.
  • I enjoy listening to podcasts while I fold laundry, wash the floors, or drive.
  • One of my sons has type 1 diabetes, and we use an app to monitor his blood sugar. While he’s a quite independent teenager, we keep in touch frequently (by text, usually) regarding adjustments he needs to make (insulin dosing or snacks).

I’ve been keeping a journal as I go through Detached. I will admit that I did not (and will not) sign on for a full-on 21-day technology retreat. (Again, social media is job-related.) Also, I’m not yet done reading the book. But this process is definitely making me think twice about how, where, when, and why I use my phone.

For several months already, I’ve had an email boundary in place. A change in mail servers meant that email for one of my jobs was not longer accessible on my phone, and I decided to turn off phone access for email for my other job as well. This means that I can only use my work email when I’m on my laptop, and I have not missed the ability to reply to work emails from the checkout line in the supermarket (yes, I have been guilty of doing that). So the boundary has been good for me.

While the author recommends a total 21-day social media fast (involving deleting the apps from the phone), I didn’t go there, as I said above. I did, however, find out how to use the Screen Time feature in iOS to keep me accountable for the time I use on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. There was a bit of a bump in the road with that, because I use Skype to communicate with my coworkers, and that was counting as social media time. But thanks to some helpful replies to an SOS I sent out (on Twitter — oh, the irony) I got it figured out, and that little popup reminder telling me that I have 5 minutes left for the day is a good indicator for me that I do need that extra help setting boundaries.

I like having a tiny but mighty computer in my pocket. I like that I can keep in touch with family, friends, and coworkers easily — no matter where I am. I like that I can help my son stay healthy. I like knowing when that predicted thunderstorm will roll through. I like listening to podcasts that edify, entertain, and educate me while I do repetitive chores. In Detached, T.J. Burdick isn’t asking me to give up any of those good things. He’s challenging me to be more intentional about whether I am efficiently consuming and producing content (11), or just wasting time.

Detached.jpg


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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

#OpenBook: May 2019 Reads

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

Fiction

printed letter bookshopThe Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay. Madeline inherits a struggling bookshop from her aunt Maddie and finds that she has plenty of healing to do as she works to turn the store around. Meanwhile, healing is in order for the store’s two employees, one of whom had gone through a bitter divorce; the other is disconnected from her family. I originally thought this would be a cheap take-off on You’ve Got Mail – but I was very pleasantly surprised. Don’t miss this book!

memory house-hauckThe Memory House by Rachel Hauck. Split-time novels can be challenging reads but Rachel Hauck makes it easy. Beck’s policeman father died on 9/11 and she lost all her childhood memories with him. Pregnant after an ill-considered one-night stand and suspended from her job on the NYPD, Beck learns she’s inherited a home in Florida from a family friend she doesn’t remember either. She gradually learns the story of the widowed Everleigh Applegate as she reconnects with a childhood friend who’s facing his own challenges. Highly recommended.

georgiaGeorgia on Her Mind by Rachel Hauck. Macy finds herself pushed out of her job and dumped by her boyfriend in the same horrible day. She tries to make the best of things with the help of her friends, the “Single Saved Sisters,” and worries about her upcoming high-school reunion. She doesn’t want to return as a failure to her hometown. After several false starts, she finds a way to make it, after all. Believable characters and situation. I really enjoyed this story.

Sweet on YouSweet on You by Becky Wade. Warning: This novel will make you want to eat chocolate. And I’m not talking M&Ms or Hershey Kisses. You may as well visit your favorite candy shop and pick up some of the good stuff right now, before you begin reading. That’s because Britt, the heroine of the novel, owns a gourmet chocolate shop; her family and friends, including Zander, her longtime friend who’s had a longtime crush on her, get to taste-test her creations. Read my full review. (ARC received from publisher)

the waves

The Waves by Amy Matayo. Dillon and Liam, both forced to go on a cruise with Dillon’s family, wind up stranded on a tiny deserted island after Dillon tries to escape her family and goes on an impromptu excursion. The two must find ways to survive as they wait and hope for rescue. Good suspense; a clean and sweet romance.

gold diggerGold Digger: The Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor by Rebecca Rosenberg. Fascinating historical novel about Colorado’s own Gold Rush and the people whose lives were made and ruined in the gold- and silver-mining industry. I was amazed to learn that Baby Doe and many other figures in the novel were real people. The historical scope of the book was impressive, but the characters weren’t very well-developed. Fair warning: the book ends on a cliffhanger — you’ll have to Google what happens to Baby Doe and her family. (Netgalley review)

rumors and promisesRumors & Promises by Kathleen Rouser. Sophie Biddle arrives in a small town with a young child and almost nothing else. Wary of strangers, she settles in to work at a boarding house, hoping no one will figure out that the little girl is not her sister but her daughter — who was conceived in rape — and that her attacker won’t find her. The young minister, who harbors tragic secrets of his own, falls in love with her. I’ll look for more by this author!

YA/Children’s

confessionsConfessions of a Closet Catholic by Sarah Darer Littman. Probably the best book about Catholics written by a non-Catholic I’ve read. Justine’s family is Jewish, but nominally so, and she wants the kind of faith she sees in her friend Mary Catherine’s family. She decides, as only a middle-schooler can, to give up being Jewish for Lent — and immediately regrets it when her beloved grandmother suffers a stroke. Could God be punishing her? Her visit to the confessional is at once hilarious and sweet. A wonderful story of a young girl’s spiritual exploration.

Nonfiction

letter to suffering churchLetter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis by Bishop Robert Barron. Writing in his own name as a Catholic, a priest, and a bishop — and not on behalf of his diocese, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), or the Church as a whole, Bishop Barron reaches out to readers who are wounded and disillusioned. Kindle version is now available for preorder. Read my full review, which contains details on how to order the book in bulk for your parish or program, at CatholicMom.com.

be braveBe Brave in the Scared: How I Learned to Trust God During the Most Difficult Days of My Life by Mary Lenaberg. I binge-read this book in an afternoon. It’s THAT good. Mary Lenaberg is a terrific, honest writer. She does not shy away about discussing the hard stuff, and I give her a lot of credit for sharing her own struggles in order to encourage others. If you have something in your life that you need to grieve and heal from, but you haven’t been able to give yourself permission to do that, this book is for you. (ARC received from publisher)

our lady of charityOur Lady of Charity: How a Cuban Devotion to Mary Helped Me Grow in Faith and Love by Maria Morera Johnson. A beautiful testament to the ways the patroness of Johnson’s native Cuba helped her grow in faith even after she moved with her family to the US. This quick read introduces la virgencita — Our Lady of Charity, the patroness of Cuba. Johnson traces the history of devotion among Cubans to this depiction of Our Lady, a devotion that has continued within the Cuban-American community to this day. Read my full review. (ARC received from publisher)

catholic dad 2Catholic Dad 2: More (Mostly) Funny Stories of Faith, Family, and Fatherhood by Jake Frost. Most of the stories in this book are only two to four pages long — a great length for busy parents to enjoy. I enjoy Jake’s perspective on raising children as a stay-at-home dad, his appreciation for his own mother’s influence in his life, his gentle sense of humor, and his unabashed faith that shines through on every page. (Review copy received from the author)

Love laughter living saintsLove, Laughter and Living Saints by Rev. Charles Cummings. Clearly a storyteller at heart, Fr. Cummings notes that some of the stories in this book have made their way into his homilies over his 50 years as a priest. From vignettes of his childhood to seminary stories and tales of the joys and challenges of life as a parish priest, this short book comprises 70 stories in addition to Father Cummings’ own vocation story, which serves as the introduction to the book. These stories clearly depict the author’s care for his family and his parishioners, and his servant’s heart. (Review copy received from the author)

library bookThe Library Book by Susan Orlean. Ostensibly the true-crime story of a 1986 arson fire in the main branch of the Los Angeles library, this book was less about the crime and more about the history of the LA Library system, its iconic building, and the people who have worked there. If you’re a big reader and user of libraries, and if you’ve ever worked in a library, you’ll be fascinated by the inside baseball you’ll find here. If you want to know who set the fire, don’t even bother. Also note: this author is openly anti-religion and particularly anti-Catholic, so keep this in mind while reading.


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

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

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

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


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz