Reads for Moms with Resolutions

Reads for Moms with Resolutions

It’s almost THAT time of year. And I’m not talking about Christmas. I’m talking about that post-Christmas time when we have time off work and some extra mental space to consider our goals, practices, and routines.

I don’t know about you, but I need that space every now and again to evaluate how things are going, and what I can tweak. I naturally live in problem-solving mode, and it’s good to use that mode regarding my home life and my spiritual life. So while I’ve got the planner and the brain-dump notebook and the colored markers in front of me anyway, adding some books that inspire me to think outside the box I’ve painted myself into is always a welcome practice.

Make My Life Simple

make my life simple

I started reading Rachel Balducci’s work at least a dozen years ago, but social media (and lack of Google Reader) distracted me from keeping up with most of the blogs I used to follow. Sure, I catch her on Instagram, when I remember to check Instagram … so I had totally missed that she’d made a huge life change after anxiety and exhaustion caught up with her as she pursued (simultaneously) careers in teaching, writing, and speaking while raising 6 kids. That’s a lot to juggle, no matter how multitalented you are.

Make My Life Simple, published by Our Sunday Visitor, hits the sweet spot of memoir/tip book combination: it’s practical and encouraging without talking down to the reader. And speaking of talking, if you’ve caught Rachel on Instagram Stories or The Gist, you know what her voice sounds like, and you’ll read this book to yourself in her lovely Southern accent. Rachel describes what she took on, and why, and what she decided to do about it when it all became too much.

Three sections focus on practical peace (order within the home), personal order, and peace and order in our spiritual growth. This is not a long book, but you’ll want to spend a while reading it so you can let ideas sink in, or scribble in your notebook about it. I loved that this book didn’t focus solely on moms with young children. My two oldest are older than Rachel’s kids, and my youngest is 16, so I was glad to see that this book wasn’t directed exclusively to the booster-seat-and-diaper-bag moms. It doesn’t matter what age your kids are — you’ll find inspiration in this book.

I was so inspired, at one point, that I put the book down and decided to go around cleaning baseboards (read the book and you’ll understand). So I broke out the small canister vacuum, which is something primarily used by the kids when my husband assigns them to vacuum out his car. Figuring the bag hadn’t been changed in a while, I opened up the vacuum to discover that someone had been using it without a bag in it at all! So I got to clean my vacuum before I could clean my baseboards. But it is a testament to the power of this book that it got me to put the book down and go clean something.

I’m going to do something else I never do, and that’s share a quote from the last page (because I’m confident that this is not a spoiler.)

Keeping your bathroom clean can make you a saint.

The Grace of Enough

grace of enough

Haley Stewart’s book got a lot of press because people made much of the fact that she lived for a year on a farm with only a composting toilet. I want to say right up front that I was curious about that too (because “roughing it” for me still involves functional indoor plumbing) but this book is not a back-to-nature memoir, and you’re doing Haley and her book a disservice by making that assumption.

The Grace of Enough: Pursuing less and living more in a throwaway culture, from Ave Maria Press, challenges readers to embrace simplicity in a way that works for them. We can’t all move to sustainable farms and raise our own chickens. We can all make big and small changes regarding how we pray, how much stuff we own, and how we spend our time. We can all find ways to savor family life, even if our husbands commute 50 miles each way instead of just down the road.

I particularly enjoyed the sections on gospel living, family dinner, and holy hospitality. You’ll also find encouragement in the areas of community-building, technology use, nurturing a love for the land, and choosing hope — among many other topics. It’s the perfect time of year to consider these factors in relation to your family life!

And yes, you’ll learn how Haley, her husband, and their three small children fared with only a composting toilet in their apartment for a whole year. But don’t let social media sell this book short: it’s not really about the toilet at all.


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

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#OpenBook: November 2018 Reads

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

Christmas

It’s that time of the year, so I figured I might as well give these a category all their own! Some people watch Hallmark movies; I read Christmas novels. And novellas. And short stories.

gift of a lifetimeThe Gift of a Lifetime by Melissa Hill. A sweet novel for movie lovers. I’d made a list of rom-coms to watch by the time I finished reading it! Not very Christmas-y but labeled a Christmas novel, this is the story of Beth, an Irish emigrant working in the shoe department of a NYC store. Her suddenly-distant boyfriend is giving off a weird vibe, she meets a sweet guy at work, and she finds herself in a scavenger hunt around the city, following movie-themed clues that she thinks will lead her to true love.

christmas in evergreenChristmas in Evergreen by Nancy Naigle. This movie-to-book novel is a fun story of a young veterinarian in a town that’s all about Christmas. Allie plans to say goodbye to small-town life and head to DC where her ambitious boyfriend awaits. Time and again, things prevent her from leaving. Meanwhile, a widowed dad and his young daughter are headed to Florida to escape the sadness of Christmas after bereavement — and they can’t get out of Evergreen, either.

christmas at the heartbreak cafe

Christmas at the Heartbreak Cafe by Melissa Hill. Cafe owner Ella injures her ankle just before Christmas, and her plans for a townwide Christmas bash might have to be scuttled. Friends offer to pitch in, but then a letter is delivered that announces the end of her lease after 30 years. The solution is more than a little far-fetched, but it’s an enjoyable holiday read.

christmas mix upThe Christmas Mix Up (a children’s Christmas novel) by Justin Johnson. Penelope discovers she’s been put on Santa’s naughty list, and she knows it has to be a mistake. With only a week until Christmas, there’s no time to lose: she takes a train to the North Pole to meet with Santa and set things straight. This would be a fun read-aloud for parents and kids to enjoy together.

 

Fiction

magnolia laneOn Magnolia Lane (Blue Ridge #3) by Denise Hunter. Pastor Jack’s friends know he has a crush on Daisy, the florist, but that he doesn’t have the guts to ask her out — so they create an online dating profile using his nickname. Jack takes it from there, building an email relationship with Daisy even as his real-life feelings for her grow deeper, and hers for him. But a secret she’s keeping, and his secret about the dating profile, could ruin things for them for good. You can’t help rooting for these two.

hungerHunger (short story) by Jane Lebak and Elissa Strati. Horror is not a genre I read, but I’m a big fan of Jane Lebak so I gave this story a try. It’s not at all gory or graphic, and I was surprised to see how much the good vs. evil conflict really came into play in this story. Waitress Sarah stays at her job in a small-town diner to protect patrons from the hungry creature that seems to want to protect her — and that kills anyone who slights her in any way. Come for the pie; don’t hassle this waitress!

we never asked for wingsWe Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbach. You’ll be drawn deep into the world of a fatherless family struggling to make it in San Francisco after the grandparents’ returned to Mexico. High-school-student Alex is really the star of the novel, trying to straddle the world between his hardscrabble life where he must care for his young sister and the life he wishes he could have with the father he’s never known. A powerful read.

promise between us

The Promise Between Us by Barbara Claypoole White. Artist Katie Mack doesn’t realize right away that one of her art students is the child she abandoned as an infant because of her severe postpartum depression. Fighting her own compulsions, she notices that the girl shows definite signs of OCD. But to help her, she’d have to reveal to her ex that she’s seen the daughter she promised never to contact. The most intense novel I’ve read in years. I was in a crowded room, reading this, and someone approached me and called my name — I jumped a good foot in the air. Trigger warning: postpartum depression/psychosis and difficult, graphic birth scene.

lavender ribbonOne Lavender Ribbon by Heather Burch. Adrienne escapes an emotionally abusive marriage and throws herself into renovating a beach home in Florida. When she finds a bundle of love letters from World War II, she sets about locating their author — and then discovers that she wants to see him reunited with his lost love. But it’s complicated, and his grandson finds himself alternating between being annoyed by Adrienne and falling for her.

YA/Children’s

henry the green zebra pigHenry the Green Zebra-Pig by Christina Leigh Daly. “Not all works of art come in a frame.” Gently-colored drawings and rhyming text underscore the book’s message that everyone is precious, no matter what they look like. This book is a perfect bedtime story or classroom read-aloud.

dear evan hansenDear Evan Hansen: The Novel by Val Emmich. I requested this Netgalley because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about — my teenager and his friends are huge fans of the musical. I didn’t like the story: it’s based on deception. Evan Hansen, completing an assignment from his psychotherapist, has a note to himself stolen by Connor, who’s made a name for himself by making everyone around him miserable. After Connor’s suicide, the note is found and Evan perpetuates the myth that he and Connor were close friends, even dating Connor’s sister. I didn’t find any character to be sympathetic or even likable. (Netgalley review)

Nonfiction

catholic all yearThe Catholic All Year Compendium by Kendra Tierney. All the liturgical-living information you need is right here in one book. You won’t have to dig through the free calendar you pick up at church, five websites, and four books about the lives of the saints to find some ways to observe the Church’s feasts, fasts, and everything in between — and make them work for your family. Read my full review. (Review copy provided by the publisher)

 

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!

open book logo

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Roland West, Outcast

OUTCAST BLOG TOUR IMAGE2

Theresa Linden’s latest novel in the West Brothers series is based on a scenario that really rings true: a group whose message is “tolerance” or “acceptance” refuses to accept certain people whose moral or political views differ from their own.

In Roland West, Outcast, that group is an after-school club at a high school. In real life … it could be anywhere, and it can happen to people of any age. (It happened to me just recently, and it was just as difficult a situation to navigate in my fifties as it is for my friend’s daughter, who was approached by a large group of students at freshman orientation, trying to pressure her into joining an after-school activity where political correctness is the order of the day. I think that particular 14-year-old handled the situation with much more aplomb than I did.)

RWOutcast front cover

Synopsis: For shy Roland West, speech class is synonymous with humiliation. The last thing he wants is more attention from the gossips and troublemakers of River Run High School. But when an outcast’s house is viciously vandalized, Roland needs to find the perpetrators—before they strike again. Yet nothing is as straightforward as it seems. Suspected by the police and ridiculed for his beliefs, Roland draws closer to the sinister truth. When the perpetrators threaten a good friend, can Roland overcome his fear of speaking out and expose them?

I was impressed by Roland’s strength of character. He might not have the guts to deliver an oral presentation in class, but when it comes to standing up for someone else who’s been victimized, Roland is all in — even when the person he’s trying to help doesn’t seem to want it.

Roland West, Outcast, is perfect for middle- and high-school students who are struggling to find their unique voices in a world where harmony is purported to be prized, but it’s really only unison when you listen closely.

Books in the West Brothers Series (in chronological order, not in order of publication):

Roland West, Loner (read my full review)
Life-Changing Love (read my full review)
Battle for His Soul
Standing Strong
Roland West, Outcast 
(concurrent with Standing Strong)
Anyone But Him (read my full review)

I asked Theresa Linden about the order of the novels, as they’re not all published in chronological order; I was wondering if that made it particularly challenging for an author. (This book does work as a standalone, but I’m all about reading the full series to get the best sense of each character.)

Q: Is it hard to bounce around in the West Brothers’ timeline? Your last book was several years ahead of this one. It must be tough to make sure you don’t say anything in that one that would mess up what you had set up in Anyone But Him.

A: Standing Strong takes place at roughly the same time as Outcast, with one scene in both stories but shown from different perspectives, so that was a bit tricky. I also had to make sure the weather was right, the conversations in the driving scene, and other events. And I was thinking about Anyone But Him whenever I had Caitlyn and Jarret in the same scene. Fun! But, yes, a bit of a challenge. For all of the books going forward (I’ll write at least one more: the Confirmation story) I have to make sure Jarret comes across as being a bad boy, even though he’s changed now, because that’s how Caitlyn saw him.

square theresa

About the author: Theresa Linden is the author of award-winning faith-filled fiction that weaves the natural with the supernatural. She has eight published novels, including a dystopian trilogy, contemporary young adult fiction, a short story in the anthology Secrets: Visible & Invisible and two short stories in Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body. She holds a Catechetical Diploma from Catholic Distance University and is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild. Her books are featured on CatholicTeenBooks.com, Catholic Reads, and Virtue Works Media. A wife, homeschooling mom, and Secular Franciscan, she resides in Elyria with her husband and three teenage boys. 

Barb's Book shelf blog title


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: The Catholic All Year Compendium

Four Novembers ago I was a substitute teacher, in a long-term placement with the second grade. Since it was a Catholic school, I began the first November school day with the announcement, “November is the Month of the Holy Souls. We pray for them to help them get into heaven.”

And a student replied, all seriousness: “I thought November is Men’s Cancer Month …”

If you’ve ever wondered why we Catholics don’t make as much of our various feast days and liturgical seasons as the secular world makes of National Talk Like a Pirate Day, Kendra Tierney of CatholicAllYear.com has a new book that will help you learn to live out the liturgical year with your family (or your students): The Catholic All Year Compendium.

catholic all year

New from Ignatius Press, The Catholic All Year Compendium puts all the liturgical-living information you need into one book. You won’t have to dig through the free calendar you pick up at church, five websites, and four books about the lives of the saints to find some ways to observe the Church’s feasts, fasts, and everything in between — and make them work for your family.

When my kids were younger (and it may well have been when there were only two of them) I did all that digging. I made sure we ate Mexican food on December 9 to celebrate then-blessed Juan Diego. I served (canned) cinnamon rolls on the feast of St. Lucy. We blessed our home with holy water and wrote “K+M+B” and the year above the front door every Epiphany. I still load one shoe per family member with treats and little gifts on St. Nicholas’ feast, December 6, and I’ve even got the box packed so my adult son, who now lives two time zones away, can enjoy some treats too.

Clearly, I celebrate feasts with food — that’s my love language. I’m not so great at decorating, and I’m grateful that my young-adult daughter has mostly taken that task over. Crafts? No way. But whether your talents lie in cooking, baking, decorating, or creating, Tierney provides ideas you can use to celebrate your faith all year long.

The introduction, titled “Liturgical Living for Life,” explains how you can make the liturgical year your own. That does not mean playing fast and loose with the Church calendar. It means taking that calendar and starting where you are to “bring a bit of the tradition of our beautiful faith into your home” (15). Use what you have (or can easily get).

The main part of the book is organized by season, beginning (of course) with Advent and going right on through Ordinary Time After Pentecost. Nearly 300 pages of saints’ stories, family stories, menu and craft suggestions, and ideas for activities ensure that you’ll always be able to find something that will work for your family.

At the end of the book there are four appendices. Don’t skip these! They cover fasting and abstinence, indulgences, the canonization processes, and a quick-reference guide to the feasts in the book (I’m bookmarking that section). For example, for this coming Sunday (Christ the King Sunday) you’ll see this entry:

Last Sunday in Ordinary Time: Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (Sunday, solemnity, holy day of obligation) — Te Deum (plenary indulgence); chicken à la king, Bundt cake (page 309).

From there, you’ve got your basic praying and eating ideas, and you know where in the book to find more information. Some dates include activities such as an outdoor picnic, preparing a meal for a friend who is pregnant or has a new baby, or decorating the Christmas tree.

“Compendium” is such a satisfying, old-fashioned word. It evokes images of vintage books, antique recipe boxes overflowing with hand-written ingredient lists, and a slower-paced lifestyle. Your lifestyle might feel like anything but slow-paced. In recent years I’ve let the frenzy of having older kids who have places to be after dinner (jobs, rehearsals, sports practices or games) be my excuse for opting out of my liturgical-year menu planning. But The Catholic All Year Compendium has reminded me that celebrating the liturgical year in my domestic church doesn’t have to be expensive, time-consuming, or complicated. This Advent, I’m going to put in the extra effort to get back into the spirit of the season and of the individual saints’ days that fill the calendar at this time of year.

Barb's Book shelf blog title


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

There are no coincidences around here

Sometimes things unfold in just the perfect way, with connections made between seemingly unrelated events: there’s no other way to explain it except to acknowledge that God has put it all together, and even made some small good come out of something that started out bad.

Here’s the story.

I spent some time this weekend at an event where it became increasingly clear throughout the day that the only people welcome and the only ones whose voices would be heard were the ones who espoused a politically correct point of view (one I do not share.) Such an attitude was patently out of place, given the kind of event it was. The implicit message that I did not belong at that event because of my views was very upsetting to me.

Afterward, I reached out to a few trusted friends to ask about how I should respond to what happened. It’s certainly not an event I intend to revisit, but it’s one I’m expected to attend. Slowly, a plan began to take shape, and I felt peace about that.

On Sunday, I saw one of our deacons at Mass; he’d missed daily Mass all week (very uncharacteristic for him) so I asked if he was OK. He replied that he’d been suffering from a back problem. I figured he must have been in considerable pain, and wished him well.

Yesterday that same deacon was back at daily Mass. He normally proclaims the Gospel rather slowly and very clearly. But he was reading more slowly than usual, and it seemed like he was slurring his words a bit. (I figured he might be taking a new pain medication, and hoped he wasn’t driving if he wasn’t used to it yet.)

At the end of Mass, he couldn’t get up the aisle to leave the church without assistance. Again, I figured it must have been his back injury. Since he had a few people helping him, I continued on my way.

One of the friends whom I’d been in touch with about the weekend stopped me on my way out the door to talk about what had happened. We chatted for about ten minutes, then noticed that there was an ambulance at the other door, figured it was for the deacon, and went back into the church.

Our pastor said that the deacon’s blood sugar was very low, and that he’d eaten a candy bar and had some water.

“Candy bars are no good,” I replied. “The fat in the candy makes it slow to absorb. He needs juice first. I have some in the car.”

(Have teen with diabetes, will travel. I keep a lunchbox in my car, filled with a juice box, granola bars, peanut butter crackers, and fruit rollups or Smarties. Emergency sugar, with and without fat.)

I ran to the car and got the lunchbox, and gave the Capri Sun that was inside to the EMTs. Then we all waited some more. When the EMTs came out of the sacristy looking for milk or peanut butter, I handed them the whole lunchbox so they could take what the deacon needed. Finally, they decided he was OK to go home (with someone else driving).

The rest of us all continued on our way.

This doesn’t make what I went through over the weekend any better, but there is comfort that something good — even something little — came out of it.

PSA, since it’s National Diabetes Awareness Month:

Signs of low blood sugar

TL; DR: if I hadn’t had that bad experience over the weekend, I wouldn’t have been around Monday to help.

… all things work for good for those who love God. (Romans 8:28)


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: October 2018 Reads

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

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

Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:

Fiction

Tupelo Honey by Lis Anna-Langston. A powerful novel about a young girl whose mom’s drug addiction and extended family’s mental illness bring her eleven-year-old into situations no child should experience. Tupelo Honey, with her imaginary friend Moochi, does what she can to survive — bonding with drug dealers, hiding money from her schizophrenic uncle, and navigating the group-foster-care system. This kid shows guts in unbelievably awful circumstances.

The Ghosts of Faithful by Kaye Park Hinckley. Not your usual ghost story, Kaye Park Hinckley’s Southern Gothic novel takes place during a single week — Holy Week — and follows a family haunted not only by ghosts, but by each family member’s secrets, betrayals, and regrets. Acts of unspeakable violence, in the past and the present, are connected by the ghosts whose mission seems to be to enact justice, even when everyone’s lives, careers, and marriages seem to be falling apart. I received an advance review copy of this book from the author.

Chasing Someday (Home in You book 4) by Crystal Walton. Aspiring coffee-shop owner Livy keeps failing at relationships, so her best friend Chase offers to help her “practice date.” She’s the last one to see where this is going, choosing instead to focus on the famous local-boy-made-good who shows up when he feels like it, stands her up more often, and generally treats her badly. Chase is tired of being in the “friend zone” and wants to find a way to pursue his dream to restore classic cars so he can help support his aging dad — and that’s not something he can do locally. Mix in an aptly-named dog named Bandit for some comic relief and you get a really good story.

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Amy Matayo. Presley and Micah were across-the-street neighbors as kids, both living any child’s nightmare with abusive parents — and keeping each other’s secrets. Micah, as an adult, has decided to stick it to his abusive dad and runaway mom by getting out of town and making it big in the city. Presley’s dreams keep her close to home, in the small town Micah can’t wait to leave behind. The two are drawn to each other, but Micah is also drawn in by Mara, the new girl in the office who flouts company policy by dating Micah in an extremely public way — and Presley’s the only one who sees Mara’s true motives. Great suspense, plenty of twists and turns, and characters it’s not easy to forget.

Close to You by Kara Isaac. Allison has a Ph.D. but the guy she married was still married to his first wife, and he’s got all her money tied up in a bitter court case. She lost her job as a professor over the whole mess, so she’s giving Tolkien tours in New Zealand. Her latest tour includes an elderly gentleman with more money than he knows what to do with, and his nephew, who can’t stand Tolkien but wants to get on his uncle’s good side so he can borrow money to repay investors after his own relationship disaster, in which his girlfriend stols his company’s secrets and gave them to another guy. A predictable but sweet romance — with plenty of comic moments. (And you don’t have to be a Tolkien fan to enjoy this story.)

Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg. A sweet story of friendships across the generations. The elderly Lucille keeps busy baking cakes for restaurants and teaching cooking classes, but she’s slowing down. Several times, she bargains with the Angel of Death to let her live a little longer so she can be there for the little boy next door, whose mother has leukemia. Lucille’s assistant, Iris, can’t bake, but she’s very smart — and needs a project to distract her from her regrets. And then there’s Monica and Tiny, who seem so right for each other — but there are too many near-misses. A bit New-Agey for my taste at some moments, but a sweet story; it’s the second in a series and I will go back to find the first one. I received an advance copy of this book from Netgalley.

Love’s Rules of the Road by Maddie Evans (First Street Church Romances). In this sequel to Love’s Highway, rebellious wealthy runaway Casey returns to Sweet Grove for a week’s visit with her boyfriend Peter before returning to college. While she’s there, an accident lands Peter’s older brother in the hospital, derailing Peter’s plans to enlist in the military and causing plenty of family chaos. Casey, whose train-hopping habits were the reason she met Peter in the first place, seeks solace in the hobby that helps her run away when things get tough.

american streetAmerican Street by Ibi Zoboi. A Haitian teenager coming to Detroit to stay with cousins is desperate to reunite with her mother, who was detained by border patrol. She quickly learns that America is not what she dreamed it would be, and that her aunt and cousins’ lifestyle, while not lavish, is financed through illegal means. Fabiola agrees to collect evidence against her cousin’s boyfriend in order to secure her mother’s release, but finds out that things are not always what they seem. Heavy profanity and violence.

YA/Children’s

3 Things to Forget by Cynthia T. Toney. A satisfying conclusion to the engaging “Bird Face” series for teens, this novel sees Wendy finally getting to visit her friend Sam in Alaska, and trying to reconnect with Sam’s grandmother, Mrs. V, whose dementia is quite advanced by now. Typical Wendy wants to protect those around her from doing things that could be harmful to themselves, and this time her well-meant intervention focuses on Dev, a fellow volunteer at an animal shelter who’s depressed and angry at her family. It was easy to jump right back into the series, and I’m sad to see this 4-part series end; I really enjoyed this cast of characters.

Charlotte’s Honor by Ellen Gable Hrkach. This second book in the “Great War Great Love” series is the story of Charlotte, who serves as a medical volunteer near Soissons, France, and has a heart for aiding the most critically wounded patients, patiently comforting the dying soldiers. She shows her strength when she volunteers to stay behind with these patients and a surgeon when the field hospital is evacuated due to enemy fire. Charlotte’s unique combination of devotion and grit attracts the attention of Dr. K, whose own heartbreak steers him away from pursuing a relationship with her. Another volunteer is jealous of the time Dr. K spends with Charlotte and tries to undermine Charlotte’s character. Meanwhile, Charlotte discovers a cryptic note in a hidden old chapel, a note which leads to a surprising discovery. I received an advance review copy of this book from the author. Read my full review.

Unlikely Witnesses by Leslea Wahl. Can’t get enough of the characters in Leslea Wahl’s full-length books? This novella puts couples from The Perfect Blindside and An Unexpected Role in the same location, on a trip to a dude ranch that turns into a mystery they just can’t leave alone. The four wind up being interrogated by a disgruntled FBI investigator, who finds himself unexpectedly impressed by their guts and their faith. Comic moments keep the story from being too heavy. You don’t have to have read the novels that introduced these characters before you read this story, but I recommend you read them anyway! My only complaint? This is under 100 pages. I would have been happy for more!

Margaret’s Night in St. Peter’s by Jon M. Sweeney. This 64-page chapter book (the second in a series) would make an excellent classroom read-aloud in the days leading up to Christmas break. The inquisitive little cat will capture students’ hearts, and there’s the added fun of an insider’s look at life in Vatican City! Author Jon Sweeney depicts the pope as a humble man who sneaks his pet into choir rehearsals and takes a break in the middle of a busy Christmas Eve to show Margaret all around St. Peter’s Basilica. I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher, Paraclete Press.

Sisters of the Last Straw: The Case of the Haunted Chapel by Karen Kelly Boyce. I’m a big fan of this series — but somehow missed reading the first one until now! You won’t find picture-perfect nuns among the Sisters of the Last Straw: All of them had failed in other convents because of bad habits they just can’t shake. Together, their best and worst qualities make for high comedy as they chase runaway goats and try to figure out what’s causing the strange noises and voices they’re hearing in the chapel. This book for readers in grades 2 and up would make a great read-aloud for primary grade students too.

Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M.M. Blume. Cornelia’s mom is a concert pianist who’s almost never home; Cornelia’s dad isn’t in the picture at all. Raised by a stern house manager, Cornelia avoids friendships because everyone is always more interested in her famous parents. When glamorous, elderly Virginia Somerset moves in next door with her servant and French bulldog, Cornelia is captivated — and learns what it’s like to be appreciated for who she is.

Nonfiction

Don’t Forget to Say Thank You by Lindsay Schlegel. The things we say to our kids contain more truth than we think: truths about our relationship with God. Lindsay Schlegel shares 15 of those phrases we say around the house on a daily basis, and examines what they mean by imagining God saying those same phrases to her. Rounding out each short chapter is a prayer, reflection questions, and a couple of patron saints whose example can help us on our spiritual journeys. Honest, encouraging, and challenging. I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley.

Poetry

from dust to starsFrom Dust to Stars by Jake Frost. The author captures the reader’s imagination by grounding the poetry in history. The poems cover topics ranging from biblical figures and events to persecution of Catholics in Britain to saints of the Church. Some of them are even prayers, written in verse. I received a review copy of this book from the author. Read my full review.


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

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

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

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Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

 

Failing at the Heroic Minute

All I wanted was a Pajama Day.

Last night I realized that, since I’m playing at the 7 PM holy-day Mass tonight, I could take my time about things and spend the morning in my PJs. I wouldn’t have to get dressed until it was time to head to Adoration at noon.

I relished the idea of working in my PJs, with the bonus of avoiding an early-morning shower-schedule collision with my daughter.

I even woke up a few minutes early! And I remembered that I’d be hanging around in my PJs, so I put on my cozy slippers and went downstairs to make my cup of tea and begin my morning routine.

All was well until TheKid’s alarm went off at 6, and he didn’t get up. He didn’t get up at 6:10 or 6:15 when I called to him from the hallway.

He didn’t get up until 6:24.

I wasn’t sweating it TOO much, because he’d said that his first-period class was having bagel sandwiches for breakfast and he’d already brought in his money to give to the classmate who was picking up the order. THEN he told me that the breakfast party had been moved to tomorrow.

And that’s when I failed at the Heroic Minute.

Succeeding at St. Josemaría Escrivá’s Heroic Minute is getting up when you’re supposed to. No snooze alarm. No rolling over and pulling the blanket over your head. I’m normally pretty good on that score.

For me, the Heroic Minute involves managing a graceful response when someone throws a monkey wrench into your plans.

I like plans. Monkey wrenches, not so much.

At 6:24 I kind of lost it when I realized that I was going to have to change out of my pajamas so I could drive TheKid to school, because there was no way he’d manage to shower, dress, and finish breakfast before his bus arrived at 7:13.

Me: I have nowhere to be until noon today. Don’t miss the bus and make me have to get dressed to drive you to school.

Kid: You don’t have to get dressed. You’ll be in the CAR.

Me: What if there’s an accident?! (Why yes, I did just hear my mother’s words … and her mother’s … come out of my mouth.)

Kid: If there’s an accident, nobody’s going to care if you’re in your pajamas.

Being my mother’s daughter, there is no possible way I could leave the house in pajamas. Or slippers. So I put on my sweatpants (translation: almost-pajamas that are fit to wear outside the house) and a pair of sneakers and grumped around folding laundry until it hit me.

I was mad because my kid’s laziness wasn’t letting me indulge in being lazy.

Ouch.

So I grabbed my car keys, and off we went, and we had a laugh about the music on the radio (instead of a fight, as is our usual), and I hope we redeemed the bad start to the day — just a bit.

Lesson learned. I don’t get to plan to be lazy, whether that means hanging out in pajamas for half the day, or indulging in spiritual laziness.

I should be grateful for the surprise of down time when it comes my way, but I should not take it for granted.

The soul of the sluggard craves, and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied. (Proverbs 13:4)


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

 

 

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Charlotte’s Honor

Charlotte’s Honor, the second book in the “Great War Great Love” series for young-adult readers, is the story of Charlotte, a medical volunteer near Soissons, France. Charlotte, whose parents are deceased and whose brother died in action, has a heart for aiding the most critically wounded patients, patiently comforting the dying soldiers. She shows her strength when she volunteers to stay behind with these patients and a surgeon when the field hospital is evacuated due to enemy fire.

Charlotte’s unique combination of devotion and grit attracts the attention of Dr. K, whose own heartbreak steers him away from pursuing a relationship with her. Another volunteer is jealous of the time Dr. K spends with Charlotte and tries to undermine Charlotte’s character. Meanwhile, Charlotte discovers a cryptic note in a hidden old chapel, a note which leads to a surprising discovery.

I appreciated the connection to Julia’s Gifts in this novel. Charlotte was a friend of Julia, so the stories, which take place concurrently, intertwined nicely. And while I’m not trying to judge a book by its cover, I will say that the chapel on the cover of Charlotte’s Honor is exactly the way I’d imagined it (I read an advance electronic copy long before seeing the cover art).

Charlotte's Honour Front Cover sm

About the other books in the “Great War Great Love” series:

Julia’s Gifts (Book #1 Great War Great Love) As a young girl, Julia began buying gifts for her future spouse, a man whose likeness and personality she has conjured up in her mind, a man she calls her “beloved.” Soon after the United States enters the Great War, Julia impulsively volunteers as a medical aid worker, with no experience or training. Disheartened by the realities of war, will Julia abandon the pursuit of her beloved? Will Julia’s naïve ‘gift scheme’ distract her from recognizing her true “Great Love?” From Philadelphia to war-torn France, follow Julia as she transitions from unworldly young woman to compassionate volunteer.

Ella’s Promise (Book #3 Great War Great Love) The daughter of German immigrants, Ella is an American nurse who, because of the time period, was discouraged from continuing her studies to become a doctor. During the Great War, she travels to Le Treport, France, to work at the American-run hospital. She meets her own “Great Love” in the last place she would expect to meet him. Ella’s Promise will be released in mid-2019.

About the author: Ellen Gable is an award-winning author of nine books, editor, self-publishing book coach, speaker, publisher, NFP teacher, book reviewer, and instructor in the Theology of the Body for Teens. Her books have been downloaded nearly 700,000 times on Kindle and some of her books have been translated into Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, and French. The mother of five adult sons, Ellen (originally from New Jersey) now lives with her husband of 36 years, James Hrkach, in Pakenham, Ontario, Canada.

Find Ellen at:
Blog: Plot Line and Sinker
Full Quiver Publishing 
Amazon Author Page
Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Goodreads
Pinterest
LinkedIn

CH Book Tour Promo 100 (1)


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: From Dust to Stars

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

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

from dust to stars

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

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

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

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


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: A Family Rosary Book

complete illuminated rosary

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

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

complete illuminated rosary

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

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

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


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.