New Graphic Novel Tells the Story of a Favorite Saint

Calling young readers who are fans of graphic novels: an exciting new saint biography tells the story of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who’s best known for volunteering to die at a concentration camp in the place of a total stranger, and whose feast we celebrate on August 14.

Maximilian Kolbe: The Saint of Auschwitz doesn’t just tell the story of Kolbe’s death, however: it celebrates the sacrifices he made throughout his life as he sought to serve God.

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World War II novels are popular summer-reading assignments for schools. While many of these center on fictional characters who make heroic sacrifices, Maximilian Kolbe tells how a Polish Franciscan priest faced persecution in Europe as he protected refugees of all faiths before his arrest in 1941.

Parents and teachers need not fear that the graphic-novel format dumbs down the story or reduces its impact. I found that this book was more challenging than many middle-grade novels and biographies, with sophisticated vocabulary and plenty of visual interest. Readers can’t skim a graphic novel and expect to understand its message: it’s a very concentrated format that demands a deep level of reader attention.

The graphic novel by Jean-François Vivier, illustrated by Denoël, depicts a man who from an early age was dedicated to the Blessed Mother and entered religious life before his 17th birthday, and spent the next 30 years establishing a religious group (The Militia Immaculata), a radio station, a wartime hospital, two monasteries (one in Japan), and a religious newspaper.

Celebrate the upcoming feast day of a devoted, tireless saint with the action-packed story of his life.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Links in this article are affiliate links; your purchase benefits the author.

‘Though War Be Waged Upon Me’: Praying to St. Michael the Archangel

After the second wave of Church scandals two summers ago, my pastor requested and received permission from our bishop to lead the assembly in praying the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel after each Mass.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl around the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.

It struck me, those first weeks as we all prayed together, that there is power in this prayer.

I did not know that there is so much more to the story of St. Michael and devotion to him until I read Carol Puschaver’s Though War Be Waged Upon Me: A Saint Michael Treasury of Prayer and Reflection.

though war be waged

This booklet, only 68 pages long, details interesting saintly connections with St. Michael the Archangel as well as encouraging the faithful to make frequent recourse to him in prayer.

Ask his help!
How wonderful it is when someone turns to you with complete confidence and asks your help! They know you are capable, they entrust their need to you, and they give you a chance to shine with your God-given talents!
Recite the Prayer to St. Michael often, and seek his intercession, especially in time of danger, trial and temptation.
Ask him for the gifts of spiritual, moral and civic courage.
Ask his help to know and discern right from wrong and act accordingly. (57)

I love how this brings home the truth that we don’t need to wait for the big stuff to happen to call upon the saints for their intercession. Indeed, we shouldn’t wait. We should keep them close. We wouldn’t want our loved ones to wait for situations to get completely out of hand before asking for our help, after all.

Learn to pray the Litany to St. Michael, the St. Michael Chaplet, and other prayers listed in Though War Be Waged Upon Me, and find the best way to keep this powerful intercessor close to you.


Copyright 2020 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: “Shadow in the Dark”

You’ll rarely hear me say that a book would make a terrific movie, but I’d say that about Shadow in the Dark, Antony Barone Kolenc’s novel for young readers. Tweens and teens who enjoy a medieval setting, plenty of action, and a good scare won’t be able to put this book down.

Synopsis: In twelfth century England, an attack by bandits in the middle of the night leaves a young boy with no memory of who he is or where he is from. Nursed back to health by the devoted monks in a Benedictine abbey, he takes the name Alexander, or Xan for short. Aided by the kindly Brother Andrew, and his best friend, Lucy, Xan commits himself to finding out who he really is. Is his family still alive? Why has God allowed so much suffering into his life? And who — or what — is the shadowy figure creeping around the abbey in the dead of night? 

The virtue of integrity is central to the story, as Xan and his friends discover which of the people around them are who they say they are and who can be trusted. This mystery story provides a fascinating glimpse inside the feudal world and the monastic life during the Middle Ages.

shadow in the dark

Shadow in the Dark is the first book in The Harwood Mysteries series by Antony Barone Kolenc and is published by Loyola Press. The author has completely revised and updated this novel from an earlier release.

Enjoy an excerpt from Shadow in the Dark:

Xan cracked open the door. Brother Oscar was nowhere in sight, but snores spilled out from his nearby cell. He slid past the monk’s door and down the steps.

Outside, the mist was getting thicker. His breath rose like wispy fog in the faint moonlight. Even with his shoes on, his feet in the wet grass felt as if they’d been frozen in a block of ice.
 
This couldn’t possibly turn out well. If the Shadow were one of the monks, he might get in trouble, perhaps even a paddling. If the Shadow were an intruder, he might get attacked. And if it were the angel of death — still a possibility — he might lose his life. After all, two times the Shadow had been seen, and both times someone had died.
 
All right, God, this may have been a bad idea. Can You help me out of this?
 
His heart was beating almost loud enough for him to hear it. Yet, in the library beneath that painting, Brother Andrew had told him not to fear death.
 
“Get your senses about you,” he said aloud, forcing himself to move through the mist.
 
He took cover at the corner of the hedge — the last place he’d seen the Shadow. Even though the wind was cutting like icicles, sweat clung to the inside of his tunic.
 
Just then, a branch cracked. A figure moved from the other end of the hedge, but it was not creeping near the trail to Lord Godfrey’s estate. It was heading up the hill toward the abbey!
 
This was the closest he’d ever been to the shadowy figure but, in all this mist, he could barely make out more detail than from the window.
 
It was dressed in a robe of dark, woolen material, the same as the monks wore. Its cowl hung so low over its head that it was impossible to tell from this distance if there was even a face beneath the hood.
 
The angel of death in his nightmare had reached with bony, skeletal hands. This figure didn’t seem to have any hands at all, unless they were tucked inside its robe.
 
Yet an object was at its side, so it must have had a hand of some sort to grasp with. Its body was blocking the object, but it appeared to be long and narrow, round and thin — a staff or reed of some kind, like the one he had seen on Brother Leo’s bed that day he’d first met the monk.
 
Xan’s paralyzed legs wouldn’t move to follow it. John was right: he must be a dotie fool to do this. What if this were that bandit, Rummy? The young boys might find his dead body crumpled in a heap on the meadow in the morning. Then they’d have nightmares for all their days.
 
Except if he went back without discovering the truth, they’d have nightmares anyway.
 
The hooded figure reached the top of the grassy hill—limping slightly, as though in pain — and headed into the granges.
 
There was no use debating anymore. Xan couldn’t go back to the dorm now without completing his mission. A crowd of young boys probably were pressed around the window slits, watching his every move. They were counting on him.
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About the author: Antony Barone Kolenc (“Tony”) retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps after 21 years of military service. He is a law professor who teaches courses on constitutional and military law and has been published in numerous journals and magazines, and he speaks at legal, writing, and homeschooling events. Tony and his family live in Jacksonville, and are the proud parents of five children and three grandchildren. His book, Shadow in the Dark, Book One in The Harwood Mysteries, is available in paperback, as an ebook, and on audible from Loyola Press.

Copyright 2020 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.

Beyond the Reach of Virtual Mass and Virtual Bulletins

In my part of the world, the churches have been open (at very limited capacity) for a little more than two weeks. And as in just about every other place, we’re wearing masks, the hymnals have been removed, there’s no holy water in the stoups, and “holy hand sanitizer” awaits you at the entrance where you check in with the ushers of a Sunday, for low-tech contact tracing.

And there are no bulletins.

Sure, you can read them online — and I do — but when a good number of parishioners are not comfortable with technology (if they even have access to a computer or smartphone at all), those parishioners are cut off from the life of the Church in yet another important way.

Yes. Bulletins are important. If the parish leaders think it’s important enough to create a bulletin (whether or not it’s offered in printed form, and during this pandemic, it’s digital only) then there needs to be a way to get them to the people who, I’d argue, miss them the most.

I wouldn’t even have thought of this, were it not for one of my friends, a fellow Secular Franciscan, who lives alone and does not have access to technology. While she is in good health, praise God, she is the ultimate people person and has definitely suffered during this time of isolation. I haven’t seen her at Mass yet because I have been singing at a different time than normal, but our first Sunday back she saw our music director after Mass and mentioned that she really missed reading the bulletin.

The music director immediately reached out to me after that conversation to see if I had a mailing address for this friend and ask if I’d take care of sending her a bulletin. Since I have a computer and a printer and envelopes and stamps, how could I say no? So I’ve been printing the bulletin and mailing it out on Monday morning, with a little note to say hello.

Yesterday my friend showed up at my front door with a little gift and a thank-you note. It has meant a lot to her to receive those bulletins in the mail. It’s no big deal for me to do this, but it’s a big deal for her to get them. She thanked me several times — for the love. And that’s what it really is, just a small gift of love.

(Boy, that was a tough visit. I could see her holding herself back. She just wanted to give me a hug. Her arms would start to move toward me, and then she’d catch herself. As I said, she’s the ultimate people person and an incurable hugger. It was heartbreaking.)

Here’s my challenge to you: Can you bless someone who’s not a digital native? Can you print a bulletin for someone in your parish who has no access to technology, but would love to read the parish news? If you don’t know someone, ask at the parish office if there is a homebound parishioner who would like to receive a bulletin with a note and a promise of prayer. Who knows: you may foster a friendship that lasts longer than the painter’s tape marking social distance in the church pews.

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Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

 


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Hope Upon Impact

As a kid, I used to borrow Reader’s Digest Condensed Books from my grandmother. I skipped over the adventure novels and romances in favor of family stories, especially the family memoirs that centered on children battling serious illness or overcoming challenges due to cerebral palsy, paralysis, or other circumstances — and then there was that one particular book about the family who adopted 19 kids, most with physical challenges.

I think such books would be harder for me to read now that I’m a mom. Childish curiosity would be replaced by empathy, because I know what it’s like for moms whose children face serious illness. I am one of those moms.

I eagerly read Julie Overlease’s memoir, Hope Upon Impact, even though I knew it covered that difficult topic: a mom suffering through, praying through, and powering through her sixth-grade daughter’s traumatic brain injury (TBI) after the child was struck by a large falling tree limb.

hope upon impact

Hope Upon Impact, recently published by Paraclete Press, is a combination spiritual memoir and medical miracle story. As I read this book, the community support that the Overlease family received after Evelyn’s accident stood out to me the most. Having endured two lengthy, critical, and overlapping medical crises in my close family this fall, I recognize the little and big ways people reached out to us. The church, school, and sports communities surrounding the Overlease family definitely took care of that family in a big way, and it was uplifting to see.

At the end of the book, the author quotes a homily from a priest at her parish, Fr. Justin Hamilton:

Everything we encounter in life is exactly what God knows is best for us, no matter how disagreeable or hard it is to embrace. That’s not at all to say that some things, like losing a loved one, dealing with a chronic illness, or losing one’s job are objectively good things. Rather, God is able to take painful, challenging events like this and apply them to our lives in such a way that they are transformed into the very best thing for us, the catalyst for the deepest growth, the best way to purify our love and sharpen our faith, if only we would embrace them just like He embraced His cross. The key to this is finding God in these moments, knowing that He is always present in our lives, if only we look for Him and ask Him to reveal Himself. (181)

Hope Upon Impact is an amazing story of God’s providence, community support, and family strength.


Copyright 2020 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.

An Open Book: May 2020 Reads

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

Fiction

wartime sistersThe Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman.

5 stars (out of 5)

A lifetime of sibling rivalry comes to a head when little sister Millie and her young child arrive in Ruth’s new hometown, in need of a job and a place to live. Tired of being overshadowed by her pretty sister, Ruth refuses to break down the walls of resentment that have built up over the years, until it becomes obvious that Millie’s life is in danger. Set during World War II, at Springfield Armory in Massachusetts, where many civilians, including young mothers, worked ’round the clock on behalf of the war effort.

5th Avenue Story SocietyThe Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck.

4 stars (out of 5)

An unlikely group of people (an Uber driver, an apartment super, a literature professor behind on his PhD thesis, a cosmetics heiress, and an executive assistant with C-suite aspirations) receive mysterious invitations to a secret literary society at a local library. Curious, they all show up, and connect in ways that go far beyond literature.

Mr PenumbraMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

4 stars (out of 5)

 

Clay takes an overnight job in a hole-in-the-wall bookstore that quickly proves to be more than it initially appears. He draws upon his own technical knowledge and his roommates’ and friends’ abilities and professional contacts to uncover the mystery behind his secretive employer and the very unusual customers who frequent the shop. Well-written and will appeal to readers with technical backgrounds.

book charmerThe Book Charmer (Dove Pond #1) by Karen Hawkins.

4 stars (out of 5)

Dove Pond is an extraordinary small town that’s home to an extraordinary family, but this novel is really about another family. Planning on just a short stay, Grace, her aging foster mother who’s showing signs of dementia, and her orphaned niece move to town. Grace tries to protect her heart and remain disconnected, but the Dove sisters and other neighbors are determined to work their way in — except Trav, a physically and emotionally scarred Gulf War vet who lives next door. I’ll look for more by this author. (Netgalley review)

giver of starsThe Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes.

4 stars (out of 5)

I almost dumped this book early on. The first 3 chapters just didn’t grab me. But I’m glad I kept reading this surprising story of a British woman who married the son of a rich Kentucky mine owner and arrives in Appalachia not knowing what to expect. With a complicated relationship (central to the plot, and I won’t spoil it), she’s at odds in the household until an opportunity to help with a new WPA traveling library system arises. A compelling story of friendship, heartbreaking poverty, and a murder mystery.

 

YA/Children’s

FS front coverFire Starters by Theresa Linden.

5 stars (out of 5)

The teenage characters in Theresa Linden’s West Brothers series grapple with tough issues as they grow in faith. This novel centers on the sacrament of Confirmation, the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, and whether a person must feel ready before they can receive grace. This novel is a great read for teens in youth groups or sacrament prep. Read my full review and interview with the author.

Nonfiction

radical saintsRadical Saints by Melanie Rigney.

5 stars (out of 5)

Melanie Rigney introduces 21 saints who endured much and persevered in their commitment to God’s call in their lives. What makes these saints radical is not extreme beliefs or practices; it’s simply that they chose to love God and their neighbor without reserve. Anecdotes about Melanie’s contemporaries who embody the same values as these saints reinforce the concept that everyday women can embody the same gifts that the saints do. Let the radical saints of the 20th century inspire you to face the challenges in your lifetime. (ARC received from publisher for endorsement.)

i heard god laughI Heard God Laugh: A Practical Guide to Life’s Essential Daily Habit by Matthew Kelly.

4 stars (out of 5)

An introduction to prayer, written in an engaging style for a Catholic audience that’s not necessarily engaged in spiritual life or regular worship. (ARC provided by publisher; longer review to come. Available August 15, 2020.)

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 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Theresa Linden Talks About her New Novel, “Fire Starters”

The teenage characters in Theresa Linden’s West Brothers series grapple with tough issues as they grow in faith. Fire Starters centers on the sacrament of Confirmation, the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, and whether a person must feel ready before they can receive grace. This novel is a great read for teens in youth groups or sacrament prep.

FS front cover

This is the final book in the series, which includes six books for teens and one spinoff novel for adult readers. I’m such a fan of the characters in this series that I’m really sad to see it go, and I admit to hounding Theresa a bit, trying to convince her to tell more West Brothers stories.

I guess that didn’t make her too mad, because she graciously answered my questions about Fire Starters, the West Brothers, and her other projects (she’s a busy writer!).

What made you choose a Confirmation-themed book as the one to end the series?

Several things … first, I have a special love for the Holy Spirit, and this is His sacrament. Through it, we receive a deepening of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit! But both the Holy Spirit and Confirmation are often misunderstood. Maybe it’s just that we can more easily relate to the other persons of the Blessed Trinity because of family. And the signs of the other sacraments make their grace clear. I love bringing Catholic truth to life through a story, so I hope this story will help readers understand both the Holy Spirit and Confirmation at a deeper level.

Second, since the current tradition in most Catholic rites is to receive Confirmation in the teen years, I thought it would be great to focus on this sacrament in this teen fiction series. I would love for my teen readers to understand the amazing grace we receive—just as the Apostles did on Pentecost, how we become soldiers of Christ in a war between the people of God and the powers of hell, how we receive supernatural help to defend our faith and advance the Kingdom of God.

Third, as I was writing Standing Strong, the fourth book in the series, I realized that the history I’ve created over the years for the West brothers made it likely that they missed this sacrament. The boys lost their mother at a young age and their father fell away from the faith as a result. They continued to attend Mass now and then with the Digbys, their live-in housekeeper and groundskeeper, but they did not continue their faith formation. So they missed Confirmation!

I also think it works well for a final story for this teen fiction series because Confirmation equips a person to live their faith as an adult. It is the foundation for each person’s vocation. So now the West Brothers are prepared for the world and their individual vocations, even if they don’t figure them out right away.

What has surprised you most about the West Brothers series?

While I know the characters inside and out and I enjoy writing the West Brothers stories, I found myself struggling to write this last book, Fire Starters. I guess I had a bad case of writer’s block. I even started to think that I would not complete the story, that I was done with writing.

Then a friend from church had to go out of town and asked me to take over her Adoration hour for two weeks. So I did. And while I was kneeling in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, the story themes began to come to me. I went home and started writing. My writer’s block was gone! I was able to write every single day until the story was completed, and it was completed in record time.

I feel bad for this year’s Confirmation candidates because of how different things are this year. Many won’t be Confirmed by a bishop, and there will likely be a limit to the number of people that can witness their Confirmations. So I’ve dedicated Fire Starters to them, and I’m happy that the book will be released on Pentecost.

Do you have a favorite among the main characters in the series? 

When I’m writing a story, I get so deep into the point-of-view character’s head. I understand why they make their choices, what they struggle with, and what their hopes and dreams are. So they are all my favorites!

Jarret’s perspective has always been fun to write. He starts the series, in Roland West, Loner, so completely selfish and egotistical. In the second book, Life-Changing Love, he’s even worse. His poor choices hurt others, but they also hurt himself. By the end of this book, through his younger brother’s persistence, he begins to think about the consequences of his actions. He takes a big step to change a big mistake, but he’s still not a transformed character.

In the third book, Battle for His Soul, when his twin stops following his lead and his girlfriend breaks up with him, he falls into a pit of despair. This is his guardian angel’s story, and I really enjoyed showing how much his guardian angels loves him and even how his younger brother, Roland, loves him, despite his mistakes. Jarret is a bit more vulnerable in this story, and his conversion at the end is the result of a hard-fought battle that many took part in.

In Standing Strong, he faces something we all do: how do you remain faithful to God when faced with the same temptations? He’s really trying by the final book in the series, Fire Starters, but he’s a bit hard on himself. It’s been fun to show this character’s struggles and growth. Jarret brings out the best and worst in the other characters too.

One of your sons is the inspiration for a character in this book. What’s the story behind his appearance in the novel?

My youngest son, Cisco, is sixteen. He loves reading. He never returns from the library without a massive stack of books. And he’s even written a few stories of his own, Walrus vs. Aliens being his favorite. While I was brainstorming ideas for Fire Starters, he asked if he could be a character in the story. He enjoys reading and writing, why not be a character in a story too? I loved the idea!

I used Cisco’s name, appearance, and skills for this minor character that becomes friends with Roland West. They meet at a shooting range. The West brothers have always enjoyed archery and marksmanship, and my son loves shooting too. He has participated in two different junior shooters programs for years and has always been quite good at it. He’s almost reached the expert level, which is as high as he can go with those programs!

Since Cisco enjoyed being a character, I might even write him into the dystopian I’m working on. Our dog, Rudy, who passed away some months ago, will also be a character in that story.

What other projects are you working on?

While my first love is teen fiction, I also write adult fiction and children’s books. I am currently working on the artwork for the Armor of God children’s chapter book fantasy-adventure series. Book two came out this May, and I hope to release the other four books in the series as soon as possible.

I have also started another book for teens, this one a historical dystopian. I know that sounds like a strange combination, but I’m really excited about this story. It begins in the year 33 AD and jumps forward to a dystopian future.

west brothers series

Synopsis:

The moment Peter Brandt discovers archenemy Jarret West is a Confirmation candidate, the ceiling of St. Michael’s Church caves in. He soon learns none of the West brothers have received the sacrament: Keefe is looking forward to it, Roland hates drawing attention to himself, and Jarret doesn’t think he’s worthy. Before Peter gets over his shock, whispers of bad news surround him. Parishioners suspect that the parish will soon close and be merged with a neighboring, newly remodeled church.

Peter’s friend Caitlyn is anxious to help, but her life comes crashing down when her mother leaves to aid her aged parents. Now Caitlyn is homeschooling with a neighboring family and caring for her younger siblings, and she can’t see her friends at school. Peter and Caitlyn soon suspect that someone might be behind the potential closing of their church. Not one to give up easily, Caitlyn suggests the Fire Starters help with preparing the West brothers and saving the church.

Read Them All!

While you don’t have to read the entire West Brothers series before reading Fire Starters, I definitely recommend that you do! This series includes a terrific cast of characters.

The West Brothers series (in order)

Roland West, Loner
Life-Changing Love
Battle for His Soul
Standing Strong
Roland West, Outcast
Fire Starters

 

Adult Spinoff from the West Brothers Series

Anyone But Him

anyone but hi

Visit TheresaLinden.com to learn more.


Copyright 2020 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.

Last Things

He’s missing all the lasts.

Last spring musical (and many associated events with that).

Last student council events and meetings.

Last lunchtime pick-up basketball games with friends.

Last day of class.

Last school picnic.

I’m normally not into the graduation sign thing, but given all the last things he’s missing, I ordered the sign this year.

This afternoon, for possibly the last time, I exceeded the speed limit on the school’s back driveway to pick up that sign for my front lawn.

Normally I’m not very sentimental, and I tend to shy away from social events associated with school, but I’m feeling sentimental today.

He’s my last kid to attend this school, and he’s made the most of his time there. He’s lived through a total reinvention of the school when it became an independent Catholic school in June 2018. He took on a leadership role in the student council and played the lead in the spring musical last year (and was supposed to do that again, before the coronavirus brought the students home from school and effectively closed down the stage).

I am hoping that the prom and graduation (now scheduled for midsummer) will get to take place, so these 52 kids who have been through a lot will have the chance to properly say goodbye to each other.

As for me, I may have said my goodbyes at 40 miles per hour in the back driveway this afternoon. Just in case I don’t get the chance to do so this summer.

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Rainbow over the back of the school, April 2016. Copyright Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

An Open Book: April 2020 Reads

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

Fiction

subway girlsThe Subway Girls by Suzie Orman Schnall. The stories of a modern-day advertising executive and a postwar coed with big dreams intersect in this dual-timeline novel based on a real advertising campaign for New York’s mass-transit system. Seeking a fresh advertising angle, Olivia comes across records of the Subway Girls ad campaign and seeks to reinvent the concept. In the late 1940s, Charlotte chased her dreams of making it big in the advertising world, bypassing the typing pool in favor of an appearance on subway posters in the hopes of helping her family’s business and escaping family obligations. A little predictable, but an enjoyable novel.

victorias warVictoria’s War by Catherine A. Hamilton. A Polish Catholic teenager struggles to survive, keep her faith, and help others during World War II. Captured by Nazis, Victoria was sold as a slave to work in a German bakery, where the deaf daughter of the proprietors has already faced abuse due to the Nazi eugenics policy and regularly finds ways to assist pregnant women in labor camps and women captured as sex slaves. An intense novel filled with strong female characters.(Netgalley review; coming June 2020)

moondrop miracleMoondrop Miracle by Jennifer Lamont Leo. In 1928 a young socialite married an up-and-coming financier who loses his own fortune in the 1929 crash, along with that of many of his friends. Left to fend for herself with a baby on the way, Connie decides to market and manufacture the skin-care tonic her eccentric aunt invented (the recipe was given to Connie as a wedding gift). A cottage industry slowly develops into a skin-care empire in this well-told tale that paints a vivid picture of the mid-twentieth century. (Advance review copy received from author.)

logging offLogging Off by Nick Spalding. Andy Bellows is addicted to his cell phone, and his doctor recommends a total detox. Afraid he won’t be able to stick to the plan on his own, Andy agrees to let his journalist friend chronicle his digital detox journey. The results are hilarious. In the middle of a blind date gone terribly wrong, Andy befriends a barista who also wants to disconnect from her phone. Spalding’s tendency toward hyperbole keeps the story rolling along. Spot-on observations about what too much tech does to people, and a laugh-out-loud skewering of fake Instagram influencers. Very funny British fiction, with a generous sprinkling of f-bombs. (Netgalley review)

sweethaven summerA Sweethaven Summer by Courtney Walsh. Following her mother’s death, Campbell finds pages from an old scrapbook that lead her to reconnect with several of her mom’s childhood friends, hoping to get answers about her father’s identity. Old wounds from everyone’s past are reopened when the friends reunite in the resort community where they’d all spent their summers as teenagers. There’s a hint of a romance to come; I’m wondering if it might be part of the second book in the series — and I do intend to read that second book, because I truly did enjoy these characters and the charming small-town setting of the story. A good girlfriend novel that would make a fun, clean beach read.

barefoot summerBarefoot Summer (A Chapel Springs Romance Book 1) by Denise Hunter. This was an intense story about fear and forgiveness. Madison has dedicated herself to fulfilling her deceased twin brother’s lifelong dream: to win a local regatta before their 27th birthday. But because her brother died by drowning, she’s fearful of water and doesn’t know how to sail. And her swimming and sailing lessons wind up being with Beckett, the very man she blames for her brother’s death. As the regatta approaches, stress takes its toll on Madison and threatens her job. The book definitely had its predictable moments, and Beckett seemed to be too good to be true (even with his wrong-side-of-the-tracks origins) but it’s a good escape read.

loves trialLove’s Trial (First Street Church Romance Book 5) by Melissa Storm. I wasn’t a fan – at all – of Sally, the main character in this novel. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to like her; she’s spent most of her life and all her time in Sweet Grove pushing people away, but wishing she had friends. When the restaurant owner’s grandson, Toby, tries clumsily to flirt with her, she is so rude that I was amazed that he tried again to get to know her. But underneath the prickly character and rough beginning (this was so not a meet-cute) there was a worthwhile story about two wounded people who were both dealing with elders in their life with difficult conditions: one with severe agoraphobia and one with a disease that could be treated but who was too stubborn to take the medicine. It helps to have read other books in the series, but it’s not entirely necessary.

YA/Children’s

brother francisBrother Francis of Assisi by Tomie de Paola. Tomie de Paola was one of my favorite author/illustrators. His books aren’t for the youngest reader, but they’re wonderful read-alouds complemented by beautiful watercolor artwork. Tomie de Paola’s strength was in telling the stories of ordinary days, and in Brother Francis of Assisi, de Paola shines in depicting the everyday holiness of the extraordinary saint of Assisi. The book, newly re-released by Magnificat/Ignatius, offers vignettes about the life of St. Francis and his companions, with text on one page and the story on the other — the full episode on a single two-page spread. The story emphasizes simplicity, devotion, and reverence, and does not portray St. Francis as a political figure or activist. The book concludes with “The Song to the Sun,” which is popularly known as the “Canticle of the Creatures.” (Review copy received from publisher.)

drawing godFor children who enjoy art as much as (or more than) the story, Karen Kiefer’s picture book Drawing God (Paraclete Press) is just right. Kathy De Wit illustrated this book about a child who wants to draw something “beyond spectacular” and decides to draw pictures of God. Break out the art supplies and let your children’s imaginations take over as you encourage them to draw God after reading this story together. At the end of the book, the author offers five ways to bring the lessons in this story to life in your home, classroom, and heart. (Review copy received from publisher.)

Nonfiction

overcommittedOvercommitted: Cut Chaos and Find Balance by Rachel Balducci. This book is perfect for any mom who has too much on her plate, whether or not she works outside the home (maybe in these coronavirus days we need a new phrase for this?). Rachel Balducci candidly shares her own struggles with taking on too much and offers advice for evaluating commitments, making decisions, being willing to serve, and dealing with worry and fear. Each chapter ends with three tips, a personal reflection section that would make great journal prompts, a prayer tip, and a prayer starter. Highly recommended. I want to go through it again with a journal and highlighter close by.


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 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Focused on Tomorrow

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Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

During these last four weeks, several people I know have noted, “This Lent is like one long Holy Saturday.”

In some ways, yes. It’s like we’re in suspended time. My teenager is having trouble keeping track of what day it is. I am, too. There’s not much to distinguish one day from another.

As of today, it’s been exactly four weeks since I’ve received the Eucharist. We attend the livestreamed Mass at our parish and are grateful to have that opportunity, but for me it only serves to increase my hunger for the sacraments.

Normally on Holy Saturday, we’re all focused on tomorrow. On any other Holy Saturday, I’d be putting together Easter treats for my kids (and for the one who lives two time zones away, I’d already have mailed something). I’d be ironing dress shirts and making sure I had every last ingredient I needed for a festive dinner with a special dessert (and maybe even appetizers if I was feeling extra ambitious). I’d be reviewing three or four responsorial psalms in advance of the Easter Vigil and double-checking my music binder to make sure everything for tonight and tomorrow was inside and in the right place.

This year, if I’m able to get potatoes, I’m thinking our festive Easter dinner (and all-day Easter project after online Mass) will be homemade pierogi.

This year, the tomorrow we’re focused on is the day we will be released from our own socially isolated “tombs” — the day we can once again leave our homes, visit with family and friends, be present at Mass.

For Jesus, that day was Easter. For us, it will be later.

But for today, let’s focus on Jesus’ tomorrow. Let’s focus on the Resurrection and the hope it signifies.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz