bookshelf with Catholic fiction titles

An Open Book: February 2021

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


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

The Castleton String Quartet Series by Maddie Evans

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Follow my Goodreads reviews for the full list of what I’ve read recently (even the duds!) Although I’ll admit I haven’t really updated this since the fall.

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

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz

9 thoughts on “An Open Book: February 2021

  1. I am also reading The Light of Tara–it’s so well written.

    I’ve always loved Saint Patrick. He’s my oldest son’s Confirmation saint. We chose him because my son has autism and we used a lot of symbols to teach him the faith. I even used a three leaf shamrock when teaching about the Trinity.

      • I’ve read two of John Desjarlais’s books and loved them. It was hard to find them, but worth it. I’d love to read The Light of Tara. It doesn’t look like it’s available on ebook, unfortunately.

  2. The St. Patrick book sounds wonderful! I’ll have to add that to my list. I already have The Circus of Stolen dreams on hold at the library, and I’m excited to read it!

    • The author of “The Circus of Stolen Dreams” is a CatholicMom contributor! That’s where I found out about the book in the first place. It’s so good.

  3. Love seeing your posts! Just picked up one of Maddie Evans’s that is free right now. I’m going to check out the Circus of Stolen Dreams too. Thanks for linking up!

    • I’ll check in with John Desjarlais about the ebook; I’m doing his book tour in March so that’s a reasonable question.

      • Hello all, and thanks for your kind comments. As for the eBook: The original file was somehow ‘corrupted’ in transmission so I had to remove it. The book designer has just provided me with new ePub and Mobi files to try uploading. So I hope to do that this coming week, in advance of St. Patrick’s Day. Hope it works this time! — Meanwhile, I have a couple of boxes of my Catholic-themed mysteries “Bleeder” and “Viper” at home; if you’d like a copy of one or both, please contact me through my website and we can arrange a shipment (of course, I’d appreciate the requester covering the postage). Grace and peace, John D.

    • You will enjoy the Maddie Evans series. The prequel is not necessary to read before you begin, but I definitely recommend that you read the others in order. And the final book … bring tissues.

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