On My Bookshelf: Perfectly Human by Joseph Dutkowsky, MD

Is there anything better than a warm chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven? I believe we’re handed them by God all the time and too often don’t notice or can’t figure out what to do with them. I’m a firm believer that when God hands you a chocolate chip cookie take a big bite out of it! (173)

Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky, or “Dr. D” as he signed off when he emailed to tell me he’d sent me a copy of his memoir, Perfectly Human, spent his life taking big bites of the chocolate-chip cookies God handed him, and the world is better for it.

 

In this fascinating book, Dr. D describes his journey from engineering student to pre-med and on to a series of academic and professional opportunities that led him to dedicate his medical career to caring and advocating for persons (mostly children) with disabilities. It’s evident from the very first page that Dr. D loves his work, and that his patients have been as much a gift to him as he has been to them. Dr. D looks into the eyes of his patients and sees the eyes of Jesus looking back at him.

Dr. D has not only worked hard as an orthopedic surgeon to help his patients enjoy their lives by assisting them in overcoming mobility challenges, he has led by example in looking and listening and helping to meet the needs of his patients and their families.

Through the patients, families, and community providers whom I serve, I learned the fundamental truth that you cannot take care of a child with a disability without taking care of their family and community. (82)

Throughout the book, Dr. D shares stories of encounters with patients and acknowledges that he was changed as much as the children and adults he has treated over the years. The thread that holds all these stories together is Dr. D’s deep reverence for the gift of life, no matter how imperfect that life might be in the eyes of an unfriendly world.

Particularly timely in these days of post-Roe vitriol against those who protect the vulnerable unborn is Chapter 16, “The New Eugenics.” Many of Dr. D’s patients have been individuals with Down syndrome. He observes,

Worst of all, this new eugenics is even threatening their lives. Through medical science, new tests exist and are being developed to genetically and morphologically examine a fetus in the womb. In the greatest tradition of medicine this information would be used to make early diagnoses that could lead to prenatal treatments to enhance the life of the child in the womb and after birth. In the worst tradition of medicine this technology is being used to terminate the pregnancy of an “undesirable” child. (168)

In this powerful chapter, Dr. D decries a culture that penalizes women “economically, socially, and professionally” for having children; a culture in which easy access to abortion enables men to use women; a culture which views easy access to abortion as a “solution to poverty” (169).

Dr. D told me, when he sent me this book, that it’s not a book: it’s a movement. He’s right. This book, which I called a memoir but might better describe as a call to action disguised as a memoir, is a spiritual push to see the intrinsic value of each person: born and unborn, healthy or ill, strong or weak, ambulatory or wheelchair-bound.

It’s also a love story, dedicated to his late wife, Karen, who supported him in the adventures that took him from New England to Tennessee, from New York to Peru and back again.

And it’s a testament to the faith of a man who has come to see all of life as a gift from God, packaged as a series of chocolate-chip cookies and ready to be enjoyed in a way that, in turn, glorifies the God who created it in the first place.

Perfectly Human is a book that will make you smile and cry—sometimes within the same page. I’d particularly recommend this book to young people entering the medical field, whether as doctors, nurses, or allied professionals, and to educators as well.


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Image: Stencil

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 my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

An Open Book: July 2022

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

Shadowed Loyalty by Roseanna M. White. Sabina, daughter of a Chicago mob boss in the days just before Al Capone’s rise to power, discovers she’d been played: the handsome young man who’d been secretly courting her is actually a government agent seeking to take down her father. But Sabina’s secret love life is unwelcome news to the young man who’d loved her since childhood—her fiancé, who puts aside his own code of ethics to get Sabina’s father out of legal trouble. A fascinating story. 5 stars.

 

For a Noble Purpose by Kelsey Gietl. Built on a premise from an episode in the Book of Tobit, the novel follows a young woman whose seven husband all died mysteriously shortly following the wedding, before the marriage could be consummated. Immediately after the death of the seventh, Sarah and the slave woman she grew up with run away to join a wagon train led by Tobias Lark and his brothers, a family of men with extraordinary gifts who seek to start a new community in the Washington Territory. An interesting look at wagon-train life from a privileged woman’s perspective. 4 stars.

 

So THAT Happened: An Accidental Romantic Comedy by Katie Bailey. Instagram posts from this author finally got me to buy this book, and it was a fun story. After a flight cancellation, Annie winds up having to share a hotel room—and a bed—with her handsome but grumpy seatmate from the plane, and she even pretends he’s her new boyfriend when she encounters her old boyfriend and his pregnant girlfriend in the airport. But she figures they’ll never see each other again … until she arrives at her new job Monday morning and discovers he’s the CEO. This clean romance would make a hilarious movie. 4 stars.

 

Meet Me in the Margins by Melissa Ferguson. Assistant-editor Savannah works at a publisher whose CEO considers romance novels too pedestrian for their lineup, but she’s secretly working on one to pitch to a competitor. After hiding her manuscript in a secret room, she returns later to discover someone’s been editing it—and making it infinitely better. This begins a back-and-forth, complete with scheduled secret-room runs so author and editor will be guaranteed never to meet. All the while, Savannah wonders who else knows about the room, and who’s working on her book. Thorougly enjoyable. 5 stars.

 

Beach Wedding on the Rocks by Maddie Evans. Noah and Elsie, known for their pranks during their high-school days and former high-school sweethearts, team up against the guy who was the cause of their breakup 8 years ago. During the week before the wedding, they stage elaborate schemes to dish out some cold revenge, and find themselves battling old feelings while they’re thrown together in hilarious situations. As always, this author’s greatest strength is her characters’ banter. 4 stars.

 

Not Until Someday by Valerie M. Bodden. Grace has a plan to renovate the house she just inherited from her grandfather into a bed-and-breakfast. She also has a life plan, right down to all the qualifications and characteristics of her future husband. When former NFL great Levi shows up as the contractor for her project, she resists her attraction to him because he doesn’t check the boxes on her list. This Christian romance was heavy on the Christian, sometimes to the point of getting in the way of the story. 3 stars.

 

Last Summer Boys by Bill Rivers. I’m not even sure how I found out about this one, but what a gem! In this novel set in 1968 rural/Appalachian Pennsylvania, a young teen seeks an opportunity to save his oldest brother from being drafted. He and a cousin, sent to spend the summer outside riot-plagued Chicago, plan an expedition to find a fighter jet that crashed in the area several years ago. Plenty of local color and flavor of the time, when developers sought to take over formerly rural areas and kids could roam for hours in the woods and hills. 5 stars.

 

Blackberry Beach and Sea Glass Cottage by Irene Hannon. While I love the mainstay characters of the Hope Harbor series, I’m starting to feel as if it’s jumped the shark. Nevertheless, these are easy, sweet reads—just right for relaxing during the summer, and solid 4-star tales. I heard there’s another one releasing this fall, and yes—I’ll be looking for it. Because sometimes, this kind of book is exactly what you need.

YA/Children’s

Love and Other Great Expectations by Becky Dean. A medical condition after an injury ends Britt’s soccer career and dreams of going to college. Offered an opportunity to spend a week in England for a contest that could net her the money she needs to replace her lost athletic scholarship, she travels around the country on a competitive scavenger hunt culminating in a Canterbury-Tale themed final project—and meets a young British man on a life quest of his own. This clean YA romance was a terrific read. 5 stars. (Netgalley)

 

Nonfiction

Encountering Signs of Faith: My Unexpected Journey with Sacramentals, the Saints, and the Abundant Grace of God by Allison Gingras. Interspersed with stories of Allison’s own spiritual journey as she and her husband adopted a profoundly deaf young child from China is “sneaky evangelism” about grace and the ways it’s shown to us—and the ways we hold our faith in our hearts. Allison had to make the faith visible and tangible to her daughter, but the Church made that easy for her through its traditions of sacred art and sacramentals. This book contains not only a fascinating testimony but also an invitation to make your faith personal, by incorporating meaningful devotions, developing relationships with saints, and learning to see God’s grace and providence in every aspect of your life. I want to read it again—this time with my journal near at hand. 5 stars. (Netgalley; available September 30 but you can preorder it now.)

 

Beginning Well: 7 Spiritual Practices for the First Year of Almost Anything by Joel Stepanek. I can never resist a “do something for a year” book and this one is a refreshing take on that theme—and a way better idea than making recipes from the same cookbook every day for a year (yeah, I read that one, AND saw the movie; bet you did too). In this new book from Ave Maria Press, Joel Stepanek offers seven spiritual practices to get you through times of transition. It’s a small book, and the author writes in a very down-to-earth, uncomplicated, conversational style. I recommend this easy, encouraging read, no matter what kind of transition you find yourself in. 5 stars. (Netgalley)

 


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 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Recommended Reading for the Eucharistic Revival

To renew the Church by enkindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. (EucharisticRevival.org)

 

The United States Congress of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will initiate a three-year Eucharistic Revival beginning Sunday, June 19, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. During this revival, Catholics will be called upon to deepen and strengthen our belief in and devotion to the Eucharist: the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Here are some of the books I’ll be reading during this time, and others I’ve recently read. Join me!

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

nullIvonne J. Hernandez is the author of The Rosary: Eucharistic Meditations with St. Peter Julian Eymard, Apostle of the Eucharist. This is a beautiful book of meditations on the Mysteries of the Rosary. I prayed my way through this book over the course of four holy hours in the Adoration Chapel, but there’s enough material in the entry for every mystery that you could focus on a single mystery each day for three weeks, if you prefer.

Just published by Aleteia+OSV, My Daily Visitor: Eucharist by Patrick Mary Briscoe, O.P. is a devotional booklet with 40 days of meditations inspired by Gospel stories and the writings of the saints. Entries are short (one page per day) and the book’s small format makes it easy to take with you or keep inside your Bible or breviary for daily reading and prayer. This devotional also contains a collection of prayers before the Eucharist, written by saints including St. Catherine of Siena, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and St. Maria Faustina Kowalska.

7 Secrets of the Eucharist  by Vinny Flynn, published by MercySong/Ignatius, is a favorite of three authors whose opinions I deeply respect: Maria V. Gallagher, Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur, and Allison Gingras, who commented, “This book literally changed my life.” Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur noted in her Amazon review, “[this book] helps readers to once again be amazed by the mystery of the Eucharist. While no one can fully understand the Eucharist, Flynn uses Scripture, The Catechism of the Catholic Church, certain Church documents, and the Diary of St. Faustina to help explain it as much as possible. … This book provides complex information about this sacrament in a highly readable format.”

Ave Maria Press has recently published two books by Timothy P. O’Malley, in its Engaging Catholicism series, which I’m reading now. Real Presence: What Does It Mean and Why Does It Matter?, the first book, explains the biblical origins and long tradition of the Church’s doctrines of real presence and transubstantiation, and encourages spiritual practices that will help us recognizing Christ in the Eucharist and in others.

The second book, Becoming Eucharistic People: The Hope and Promise of Parish Life, discusses ways to cultivate a culture in our parishes that treats Real Presence not only as an important Catholic doctrine, but also as the most important part of parish identity. This book is not just for priests and parish ministers—there’s valuable information and food for thought for every reader.

 

What will you be reading during the Eucharistic Revival? Share your recommendations in the comments!

 


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photo copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of some of these books, but no other compensation. Others were purchased on my own. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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Prolife? Give, don’t gloat.

This morning, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization which effectively overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

There’s a lot of vitriol on social media right now—on both sides. I’m trying to stay out of the way of that, but I think it’s important to consider constructive responses to the situation, rather than destructive reactions.

If you’re prolife, don’t take the opportunity to gloat today.

Instead, take the opportunity to give.

Crisis pregnancy centers and organizations such as Good Counsel Homes that offer housing, educational, and work opportunities to women can use your funds, your time, your donations of goods, and your prayers.

What kinds of things can you give?

  • diapers (especially the larger sizes)
  • wipes
  • baby formula
  • bedding
  • clothing
  • supermarket gift cards

To find a crisis pregnancy center near you, google “abortion alternatives” followed by your zip code or “pregnancy center near me.” It’s that easy! Then reach out and find out how to make your donation.

For people who say that helping babies is all well and good, but what happens when the kids outgrow the cribs but still need food, clothing, shelter, and daycare? The St. Vincent de Paul Society has them covered. This organization helps individuals and families by providing funds for food, rent or mortgage payments, utilities, and more. You can donate funds or gift cards forlocal supermarkets.

You can also budget for extra groceries each week and make donations to your local food pantry. Summer, in particular, is a time of greater demand at food pantries, because children are out of school and missing the breakfast and lunch they often received there. Be sure to include some kid-friendly, easy-to-prepare options.

If you think about it, the most prolife thing anyone can do is to carry out the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. Maybe you can’t do all of them. But you can do some of them. You can do at least one: pray for the living and the dead. But I’m sure you can find a way to do others, no matter your current situation.

Be creative! A group of musicians from my parish tonight will be taking advantage of today’s beautiful weather and visiting a homebound parishioner—and we’ll bring the music with us. Usually we call her during our weekly rehearsal and sing to her, but we wanted to do something more. She’ll get a mini-concert, featuring the music we’ll sing at Sunday Mass. That work of mercy costs us nothing but our time. And she was thrilled, when I called her at lunchtime, to tell her I’d be stopping by later with a surprise.

Now is the time to begin the work of building a post-Roe America,” the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) stated.

Be a giver, not a gloater—today and every day. That’s how we build a post-Roe America.

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Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images: Stencil

books on a bookshelf

An Open Book: June 2022

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. This has been a spring for reading books outside my normal fare! Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:

Fiction

I’ve been bingeing my way through Irene Hannon’s Hope Harbor series. Set in a small town in coastal Oregon, this clean romance series features a terrific supporting cast, including Charley, an artist/taco truck owner whose powerful insights often set other characters on the right track; the priest and minister, good friends who engage in good-natured battles over who knows Scripture better; and Floyd and Gladys (I won’t spoil this one for you). They’re quick, enjoyable reads—perfect for summer. So far I’ve read the first 6 of 8 books and definitely recommend that you read the series in order:

Hope Harbor
Sea Rose Lane
Sandpiper Cove
Pelican Point
Driftwood Bay
Starfish Pier
and the last two, which I’ll be reading soon: Blackberry Beach and Sea Glass Cottage.

The Love We Vow and The Vows We Keep by Victoria Everleigh feature a man in his early thirties who struggles with his priestly vocation and guilt from his past relationships. The books include prolife themes as well as a focus on forgiveness (including forgiving oneself for past mistakes) and reconciliation with God and others. I wasn’t much of a fan of Tristan, the main character—he didn’t seem to know what he wanted out of life, but the female characters in both books were more relatable.

In the Shadows of Freedom by C & C Spellman is the first in a dystopian trilogy by a husband-and-wife author team. A young woman, off to attend art school in New York City, is tracked by government agents seeking to remove all religious influence from the country. The self-focused Amanda is oblivious to all of this. She trades obsession for her art to obsession with a drug her supposed “friends” introduce her to, and neglects contacting her own family until the crisis she finds herself in, a literal battle between good and evil, threatens her life and she decides to go home and seek refuge there. This novel was beautifully written and is a compelling story. I’m not a big reader of this genre, but I’m invested enough in the story that I want to continue reading the series. Book 2, A Nation of Tyrants, is available now.

 

YA/Children’s

Pudge & Prejudice by A.K. Pittman. A slightly overweight high-school sophomore in a large family of beautiful girls starts the year in a new school in a new state, and can’t figure out how to fit in, or what to do about her feelings for the football star whose best friend is her sister’s boyfriend. The ’80s references in this book were terrific—it takes place during the time of my own teenage years. I missed most of the Jane Austen references in this novel, because I’m not a fan, but even without that, it was an excellent story.

Nonfiction

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City by Jonathan Mahler was a fascinating look at the city very near where I grew up during my growing-up years. I recognized the names of most of the politicians and baseball players just from what I absorbed as the child of an avid Yankees fan. I remember many of the events that took place that year (the blackout, Son of Sam) and this book put things into more context than I had, given that they happened while I was in middle school. I’m recommending this to my mom (the Yankees fan mentioned above).

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 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

stock the shelves: the easy and free way to share Catholic and Orthodox fiction with our local communities

Stock the Shelves: How You Can Help Your Favorite Authors Reach Readers

I’m proud to support Stock the Shelves, a new joint effort to promote the inclusion of Catholic fiction in public libraries.

Did you know you can suggest titles for your public library’s permanent collection? The Catholic Mom community and the Catholic Writers Guild, along with several Catholic fiction organizations and dozens of authors, want to flood our local libraries with fiction by Catholic and Orthodox Christian writers, bringing our unique sacramental perspective to a wider audience.

How can you help?

Simple! If you are a fan of Catholic and Orthodox fiction, share your favorite titles with others by filling out a request form at the library or via your library’s website. It costs nothing except a few minutes of your time.
My local library automatically puts my name at the top of the hold list when they acquire a book I’ve requested. Even if I already own the book, I make sure to borrow it (I return it quickly). This way, the library’s circulation records show activity on that book.
To learn more, visit the Stock the Shelves campaign homepage and check out a wide variety of great contemporary Catholic and Orthodox authors.
Thank you for your support of this campaign—it’s an encouragement to all Catholic and Orthodox writers.
stock-the-shelves-banner-CP

 


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images copyright 2022 Rhonda Ortiz, all rights reserved, used with permission

On my Bookshelf: How They Love Mary

There are as many ways to show your love for the Blessed Mother as there are depictions of Mary in art. In his new book, How They Love Mary: 28 Life-Changing Stories of Devotion to Our Lady (Sophia Institute Press), Fr. Edward Looney explains how 28 saints and saints-in-progress express their love for the Mother of God.

Fr. Looney, host of the How They Love Mary podcast, begins by sharing the story of his own devotion to Mary, which was fostered by his grandmother and later grew into a passion for visiting Marian shrines, reading about Our Lady, and writing devotional books. In the Introduction, he observes, “I always ask Mary to help me love Jesus.”

If you would like to learn to love Jesus more, start by reaching out to Mary—after all, no one on earth loved Jesus more than she did! In How They Love Mary, Fr. Looney details concrete ways you (and your family) can do this, and all of these ways are inspired by the 28 holy men and women whose stories he highlights. Well-known saints such as St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio), St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and St. Kateri Tekakwitha are featured, along with Venerable Patrick Peyton, Blessed Solanus Casey, Servant of God Chiara Lubich, and Sr. Clare Crockett.

Each chapter concludes with two or more things you can do to deepen your relationship with Our Lady. Here are a few, along with the saint or holy person whose devotion inspires them:

  • Learn more about Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. Pray a novena asking Mary to untie whatever knots you face in your life. You may even ask her to untie the knots of which you are unaware! (Pope Francis, p. 115)
  • Whatever request or petition you have, don’t be afraid simply to say, “Mary, please pray for this need of mine.” (Mother Mary Francis, p. 66)
  • Make a daily visit to a statue of Our Lady and pray the Memorare. Is there an outdoor statue nearby your home or do you have one in your yard or home? (St. Francis de Sales, p. 152)
  • When you next attend Mass, ask for her help in remaining attentive throughout. (Bl. Columna Marmion, p. 97)

Chapters in How They Love Mary are brief—only a few pages each—which makes this book an excellent choice for daily spiritual reading. Consider reading a chapter each day during May (Mary’s month), and try some of the many saint-inspired suggestions for growing closer to the Blessed Mother—and through her, to Jesus.


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image: Stencil

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

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

An Open Book: April 2022

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

Fiction

The Roommate Situation (Only in Atlanta, Book 1) by Katie Bailey. An enjoyable clean romance, but I liked the second in the series more. This one featured a young woman who just broke up with her cheating boyfriend, showed up unannounced at her older brother’s house, and found that only his roommate would be there for a few weeks. They try to hide their developing relationship from everyone, to no avail and to hilarious effect. (4 stars)

 

Neighbor WarThe Neighbor War: A Romantic Comedy (Only in Atlanta Book 2) by Katie Bailey. A fun, light read about neighbors who have longtime crushes on each other but don’t know the other one likes them—and one of them thinks she hates the other, based on an erroneous first impression. Witty banter (so much witty banter!), fun characters. (5 stars)

 

Bluebird by Genevieve Graham. Historical fiction set in Canada during/just after World War I. In this second-chance love story, a military nurse falls for a patient who, along with his brother, had been seriously injured doing dangerous work. After the war, the former soldier and his family make their living as bootleggers and smugglers across the Canada-US border, and the nurse unwittingly begins dating the brothers’ biggest competition, a gangster who is out to ruin his enemies. I’ll definitely look for more by this author. (5 stars; Netgalley review.)

 

YA/Children’s

Finding Junie KimFinding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh. Dual timeline fiction, set during Korean War and present-day, with both story lines from the view of adolescents. The story itself is a lovely family saga, even as it recounts the brutalities of war. The book takes on racism and bigotry but openly supports the BLM movement, and there was definitely an undercurrent of anti-white-privilege going on, which is its own form of racism. Because of this and because of some disturbing content (war violence), I would recommend a critical read before giving it to a child because the book definitely does endorse a party line. (4 stars)

Nonfiction

No Such Thing as OrdinaryNo Such Thing as Ordinary by Rachel Balducci. Rachel’s upbringing in the faith is different from most, because she was raised in an intentional Christian community, where she still lives. Don’t let her unique experience stop you from reading this encouraging look at being your best for God, structured around the story of the woman at the well. (4 stars; Netgalley review. Releases May 6.)
Synopsis: Are you looking for freedom and fulfillment in the life you are already living, or do you feel trapped because your everyday reality doesn’t match your dreams? No Such Thing as Ordinary will help you discover the passion and adventure in your life while empowering you to see how God uses daily, here-and-now moments to draw you to him in an extraordinary way. Drawing from Jesus’s conversation with the woman at the well in the Gospel of John, Rachel Balducci—Catholic writer and cohost of CatholicTV’s The Gist—shares how a deep unrest in her life launched her on a journey to discover the secret that true joy is found in a deeper relationship with Jesus.

Dust Bowl Girls coverThe Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of the Team that Barnstormed Its Way to Basketball Glory by Lydia Reeder. The true story of a Depression-era women’s basketball team in Oklahoma. A fascinating premise: women recuited to attend a junior college in Oklahoma face challenges ranging from poverty to sexism as they work to qualify for a championship tournament against some of the region’s best female basketball players. The book got bogged down in some unnecessary detail that didn’t keep the story moving and maybe could have been included as a supplement rather than incorporated into the story line. (4 stars.)

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.

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!

Stations of the Cross - HC Cathedral Boston 2019

OSV Kids Stations of the Cross: Devotions Just Right for Children

In her new booklet, OSV Kids Stations of the Cross, Colleen Pressprich proves that the Stations of the Cross can be made accessible to kids without watering down the impact of the devotion.

One of the things I look forward to each Lent is the parish celebration of the Stations of the Cross each Friday. When my children were in grade school, they would go to the church on Friday afternoons to pray the Stations. Parents were invited to attend, and I often did when my schedule allowed, but the resource the school was using for the Stations was complicated, with flowery language.

That’s not a problem with this new resource from OSV Kids. Colleen Pressprich and illustrator Adalee Hude have created a prayer resource that’s long on reverence and simplicity and short on complicated vocabulary and graphic detail.

Each Station begins with the traditional call-and-response used at the Stations of the Cross. A brief meditation follows, accompanied by a few questions to help the children relate the challenges and suffering Jesus faced to experiences in their own lives. In the prayer for each Station, the children ask for Jesus’ help in meeting challenges such as loneliness, tiredness, frustration, discouragement, and forgiveness.

The meditation and prayer from the Second Station are good examples of how the suffering Jesus experienced is depicted in a child-appropriate way:

The soldiers make Jesus carry his own cross to the hill where he will die. The cross is very heavy. Jesus was in prison all night, and he hasn’t eaten any food since the Last Supper the night before. He also has been beaten. He is tired and weak, yet he still chooses to take up his own cross and walk toward his death because he loves us.

Have you ever had to do something very hard even though you were tired? How did it feel? What helped you keep going? What do you think Jesus was thinking when he lifted the heavy cross onto his back?

Dear Jesus, please remind us that you are with us when we are tired and don’t want to do what is asked of us. Please help us to remember that we can offer up what we don’t like as a prayer. Amen.

 

I would recommend OSV Kids Stations of the Cross for use with children in elementary school. It’s an excellent resource for families to use to pray the Stations together, and would also be great for use in Catholic schools or religious education programs.

Don’t skip the author’s note at the beginning of the book. Pressprich addresses this to parents, teachers, and priests; in it, she explains how adults can model faith-sharing by using some of the questions in the meditation for each Station.

OSV Kids Stations of the Cross has received an Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat, which indicate that the book is free from doctrinal or moral error.

It’s important to note that while the Stations of the Cross is a popular devotion during Lent, the Stations can be prayed all year ’round. I remember that when I was a child, my great-aunts and great-uncle used to visit a church every single day to pray the Stations—even while on vacation! If you find that the Stations of the Cross becomes a special devotion for your family, think about ways you could pray it as a family once a month, perhaps on the First Friday.


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photo copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.

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On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

An Open Book: March 2022

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. I’ve decided to only share books here if they merit 4 or 5 stars

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

Fiction

Much Ado About a Latte by Kathleen Fuller. 4* for the characters, whom I enjoyed in a previous book in this series. A sweet friends to lovers romance with a lot of missed opportunities between two coworkers. Synopsis: A coffee war is brewing in Maple Falls, where Anita and Tanner are serving up plenty of sparks to keep the town buzzing. Anita Bedford needs to face reality. It’s time to decaffeinate the dream that she and Tanner will ever be more than friends. Growing up in small-town Maple Falls, she’s had a crush on Tanner for years. But he’ll only ever see her as good, old, dependable Anita. Now she’s finally ready to make her own goals a reality. In fact, that deserted building next door to Sunshine Diner looks like a promising location to open her own café … Tanner Castillo may know how to operate a diner, but he doesn’t know beans about love. After pouring his life savings into buying the Sunshine Diner, he needs to keep his mind on making a success of it and supporting his widowed mother, not on kissing Anita Bedford. First order of business: improve his customers’ coffee experience. Next, he should probably find out who bought the building next door …It’s a bitter cup to swallow when ambition turns longtime friends and coworkers Anita and Tanner into rivals. Now that they own competing businesses, how could they ever compete for each other’s hearts? Or will the two of them come to see what’s obvious to the whole, quirky town of Maple Falls: potential for a full-roast romance, with an extra splash of dream?

Great or Nothing by Caroline Tung Richmond, Joy McCullough, Tess Sharpe, Jessica Spotswood. 4* A very well-written 4-author collaboration on a WWII version of Little Women, with each author in charge of writing one character’s chapters. At this point in the story Beth has already died, and her chapters are poems addressed mostly to her sisters, though some just seem to be musings. Vague reviewer thoughts, no-spoiler edition: Jo’s character won’t be a surprise to some readers, but I felt that it wasn’t true to the original or necessary to the story. And I should probably check authors’ backlists before I request Netgalleys. Synopsis: A reimagining of Little Women set in 1942, when the United States is suddenly embroiled in the second World War, this story, told from each March sister’s point of view, is one of grief, love, and self-discovery. In the fall of 1942, the United States is still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor. While the US starts sending troops to the front, the March family of Concord, Massachusetts grieves their own enormous loss: the death of their daughter, Beth. Under the strain of their grief, Beth’s remaining sisters fracture, each going their own way with Jo nursing her wounds and building planes in Connecticut, Meg holding down the home front with Marmee, and Amy living a secret life as a Red Cross volunteer in London–the same city where one Mr. Theodore Laurence is stationed as an army pilot. Each March sister’s point of view is written by a separate author, three in prose and Beth’s in verse, still holding the family together from beyond the grave. Woven together, these threads tell a story of finding one’s way in a world undergoing catastrophic change. (Netgalley)

The Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schultz. 4* I ran into some timeline confusion with this one (it’s easy to forget what year you’re in) and 3 points of view seemed to be a lot. Synopsis: 1957, Clayton Valley, Ohio. Ellie has the best grades in her class. Her dream is to go to nursing school and marry Brick McGinty. A basketball star, Brick has the chance to escape his abusive father and become the first person in his blue-collar family to attend college. But when Ellie learns that she is pregnant, everything changes. Just as Brick and Ellie revise their plans and build a family, a knock on the front door threatens to destroy their lives. The evolution of women’s lives spanning the second half of the twentieth century is at the center of this beautiful novel that richly portrays how much people know—and pretend not to know—about the secrets at the heart of a town, and a family.

The Dating Charade by Melissa Ferguson. 4*, a predictable but fun story. Synopsis: Cassie Everson is an expert at escaping bad first dates. And, after years of meeting, greeting, and running from the men who try to woo her, Cassie is almost ready to retire her hopes for a husband—and children—altogether. But fate has other plans, and Cassie’s online dating profile catches the eye of firefighter Jett Bentley. In Jett’s memory, Cassie Everson is the unreachable girl-of-legend from their high school days. Nervously, he messages her, setting off a chain of events that forces a reluctant Cassie back into the dating game. No one is more surprised than Cassie when her first date with Jett is a knockout—but when Cassie finds herself caring for three sisters in an emergency foster placement, she decides to hide them from Jett to avoid scaring him off. When Jett’s sister’s addiction issues land her three children at his home, he decides the last thing Cassie needs to know about is his family drama. Neither dares to tell the other about their unexpected and possibly permanent family members for fear of scaring away their potential soulmate, especially since they both listed “no kids” on their profiles! With six children between them and secrets mounting, can Cassie and Jett find a way forward?

The Last Chance Library by Freya Sampson. 4* Set in a library, this sweet friendship story is set in a small British village with some delightfully quirky characters. June’s grief has encompassed her life; she works at the library and reads, nothing else—until the library is threatened with closing and she bands together with an unlikely group of library patrons to keep it open. Synopsis: June Jones emerges from her shell to fight for her beloved local library, and through the efforts and support of an eclectic group of library patrons, she discovers life-changing friendships along the way. Lonely librarian June Jones has never left the sleepy English village where she grew up. Shy and reclusive, the thirty-year-old would rather spend her time buried in books than venture out into the world. But when her library is threatened with closure, June is forced to emerge from behind the shelves to save the heart of her community and the place that holds the dearest memories of her mother. Joining a band of eccentric yet dedicated locals in a campaign to keep the library, June opens herself up to other people for the first time since her mother died. It just so happens that her old school friend Alex Chen is back in town and willing to lend a helping hand. The kindhearted lawyer’s feelings for her are obvious to everyone but June, who won’t believe that anyone could ever care for her in that way. To save the place and the books that mean so much to her, June must finally make some changes to her life. For once, she’s determined not to go down without a fight. And maybe, in fighting for her cherished library, June can save herself, too.

 

YA/Children’s

One Blessing at a Time by Leslea Wahl. 5*, YA. This is a fun prequel to Leslea’s novels, with 4 characters we meet in her novels and series later. A single object makes its way from one character to another; two are related, and the others are connected by chance. Because I’ve read and enjoyed the other books, this was like greeting old friends. But this is a standalone prequel and you don’t need to have read any of the author’s other novels to enjoy it (though you’ll probably want to, once you read this). Synopsis: This intriguing short story about a mysterious sacred object offers a glimpse into the backgrounds of snowboarder Jake, aspiring journalist Sophie, baseball player Ryan, and theater enthusiast Josie, offering new details from their pasts. Ever wonder about the event that catapulted Jake to the national spotlight? Did Sophie always have a knack for uncovering the truth? What circumstances provided Ryan with the opportunity to play ball for an East Coast scout team? How successful was Josie as she tried to go unnoticed during her first years of high school? This illuminating short story prequel explores the idea that you never know whose life you may touch with a simple blessing.

Beckoning by Claudia Cangilla McAdam. 4*, YA. Split-time Biblical fiction, but 90% of the time was spent in the Biblical setting, making me wonder why the author even bothered with the other story line. It got in the way of the flow of the Biblical story. Synopsis: Tabby Long is a non-Christian girl in a Catholic school whose world gets turned upside down when her dad, who has never been a man of faith, experiences a miraculous healing on Good Friday. Her father’s dramatic religious conversion alienates her mother, who deserts the family. In her struggle to understand what has happened to her family, Tabby follows the suggestion of her school’s religion teacher, and she begins spending time reading Scripture while in Eucharistic Adoration. Following the practice taught by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, she inserts herself into the biblical stories she reads. Through this process, she “time travels” to first-century Jerusalem, where she is Tabitha Longinus, the daughter of the centurion Gaius Cassius Longinus, who pierces the side of the crucified Jesus, incurs a spontaneous healing, and undergoes immediate conversion. Tabitha is a Gentile girl with Jewish friends and a mother who can’t accept her husband’s newfound (and dangerous) faith.

Long Story Short by Serena Kaylor. 4*, YA. When a solitary, routine-bound homeschooled teenager gets into her dream school (Oxford), her parents decide to send her to theatre camp for the summer so she can prove her ability to socialize before they’ll let her travel abroad for college. (And her parents are therapists! OK, sex therapists, but still. Talk about out of the frying pan, into the fire.) What could possibly go wrong? An entertaining novel packed with the stereotypical theatre-kid characters and some to spare: the characters are a lot of fun to read about. I’m not sure of the significance, if any, of the title. Synopsis: Growing up homeschooled in Berkeley, California, Beatrice Quinn is a statistical genius who has dreamed her whole life of discovering new mathematical challenges at a school like Oxford University. She always thought the hardest part would be getting in, not convincing her parents to let her go. But while math has always made sense to Beatrice, making friends is a problem she hasn’t been able to solve, so her parents are worried about sending her halfway across the world. The compromise: the Connecticut Shakespearean Summer Academy and a detailed list of teenage milestones to check off. She has six weeks to show her parents she can pull off the role of “normal” teenager and won’t spend the rest of her life hiding in a library. (Netgalley, releases July 26)

Butter by Erin Jade Longe. 4*, YA. Better than the movie. The movie is what got me interested in reading the book at all (because I wanted to see how they compared). I thought the book’s ending was more realistic than the movie’s, though still a reach. Butter is isolated both from his parents and his peers because of his weight. The only sympathetic character is his music teacher, who encourages his ability by letting him jam with his jazz band. But Butter decides he’ll get back at the bullies by promising to webcast as he eats himself to death. Synopsis: A lonely 423-pound boy everyone calls “Butter” is about to make history. He’s going to eat himself to death live on the Internet – and everyone will watch. When he makes this announcement online, he expects pity, insults, or possibly sheer indifference. Instead, his classmates become morbid cheerleaders for his deadly plan. But as their dark encouragement grows, a few voices begin to offer genuine support and Butter starts to have doubts. His suicidal threat brought his newfound popularity–and a taste of what life could hold for him–but can he live with the fallout if he decides not to go through with his plan? Emotionally raw and darkly humourous, this is an all-consuming look at one teen’s battle with himself.

Nonfiction

In Awakening at Lourdes: How an Unanswered Prayer Healed Our Family and Restored Our Faith, Christy Wilkens describes the details of her last-ditch spiritual effort to heal what modern medicine could not. She and her husband were exhausted, and the constant caregiving, monitoring, and medical visits for Oscar did not leave much left over for their five older children—or their marriage. Synopsis: The grotto at Lourdes is known as a place of healing. But sometimes the miracle that occurs is not physical, but something much deeper. Wilkens made the long trek to Lourdes with her husband, Todd, and their toddler—who is plagued by mysterious seizures—through a program with the Order of Malta. In Awakening at Lourdes, Wilkens shares that while Oscar’s condition did improve after their visit, the real healing took place between she and her husband. Through their time at Lourdes, they discovered a deeper love for each other, a renewed sense of appreciation for their faith community, and an abiding confidence in God’s mercy. Persuaded by her husband to take the trip, Wilkens summoned her faith– faith in God, faith in her husband, and faith in the doctors and other helpers who surrounded them every step of the way—to embark on the journey of a lifetime. Recording their experiences with deeply personal yet highly relatable language, Wilkens offers a firsthand account of the traditions and culture of the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes and the shrine’s special servers, the Order of Malta. She also captures her own doubts, questions, and fears as she attempted to process the family’s physical and emotional journey.

 

The Fine Print

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.

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 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz