On my bookshelf: April 2021 Reads

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

I am about ready to declare Goodreads bankruptcy over here. I’m just not keeping up.

Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading (which includes a ridiculous number of books about people grieving the loss of a parent or grandparent):


The Traveling Prayer Shawl by Jennifer Lynn Cary. 4 stars. Cami’s beloved grandmother (who raised her after her parents’ death) dies and leaves instructions that Cami must complete a project in order for the will to be read. She and her cousin, a longtime rival who is the only other living family member, have no idea what the will contains – and Cami’s project timetable mirrors one for an ad campaign at work that turns out to be inextricably connected with the project her grandmother left for her. A great read about priorities and the meaning of family. I’ll look for more by this author.

The Letters of Magdalen Montague by Eleanor Bourg NIcholson. 4 stars. An epistolary novel that opens shortly after the turn of the 20th century and features the delightfully cynical voice of “J,” who pens occasional letters to the anti-religious “R” about his growing obsession with the equally mysterious Magdalen Montague. This obsession leads him to rethink his Church-of-England views on Catholicism and change the course of his life. The perks of preordering this ebook directly from the publisher, Chrism Books (a new Catholic imprint of WhiteFire Publishing), meant that I didn’t want to wait until the June 1 publication date to read the book!

Close to the Soul by Mary Jo Thayer. 4 stars. This novel provides a close look at the impact of out-of-wedlock pregnancy on a devout Catholic family in the late 1950s. Carolyn’s mom and her great-aunt were terrific supporting characters. It’s a fascinating story with an uplifting (and surprising) end. (Advance reader copy provided by publisher; available now)

An Observant Wife by Naomi Ragen. 4 stars. Leah, a convert to orthodox Judaism, begins her married life in an insular Brooklyn neighborhood, and learns that it’s not that easy to live that kind of life. She takes a big risk (and pulls in the rest of the family with her) when her teen stepdaughter briefly rebels, then suffers trauma after a forbidden relationship. Turns out this book is a sequel to An Unorthodox Match, which I had not read – but the story is well told enough that I didn’t need to. (Netgalley review; book releases in September)

All That Really Matters by Nicole Deese. 5 stars. I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed this novel about a social-media beauty and fashion influencer, because I am not talented at either of these! The main character, Molly, turns out to be delightfully not shallow as she embarks on an adventure in volunteering at a transitional program for teens aging out of the foster care system. She makes errors in judgment along the way, grows from her mistakes, and becomes an influencer in the best sense of the term.

Is It Any Wonder by Courtney Walsh. 4 stars. Louisa’s event-planning company is hired to plan a fundraiser for the local Coast Guard station, which needs to build its reputation among the community. That’s when she discovers that her former boyfriend, whom she has not seen in more than a decade, has recently been stationed there and he’s assigned to the committee for the event. As the two of them approach their shared 30th birthday, which had been the subject of a teenage pact between them, they work through their common survivor’s guilt over the death of Cody’s father, which had broken up the two and driven a wedge between their families.

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl. 5 stars. Fans of Reichl’s memoirs will love her fiction debut, the story of a young magazine employee in her first grownup job in New York City. From her very first day, when Billie undergoes an unusual test of her fitness for the job, to the close of the magazine and Billie’s moonlighting at a local cheese shop while she remains the sole on-site employee, fulfilling a long-standing guarantee and (unbeknownst to her employer) solving a mystery that involves a secret room filled with correspondence, there’s a wonderfully eccentric cast of characters moving the story along. If you’re interested in food, you’ll love this novel.


You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao. 5 stars, but you’ll have to wait until the book releases in November. One of the best YA books I’ve read in a long time. Julie blames herself for her boyfriend’s accidental death and tries to cope by getting rid of everything that reminds her of him. Her grief is pretty raw, and she puts herself into some pretty risky situations. Then she discovers that she can call his cell phone – and he answers. Sam helps her (and some other friends) work through their grief and survivor’s guilt. The book is labeled for ages 12-18 but I think 12 is a little young for this. (Netgalley review)

Everywhere, Always by Jennifer Ann Shore. 4 stars. After Avery and her single mom are involved in a car accident, Avery realizes her mom is dead before she loses consciousness and wakes up in an out-of-state hospital, only to learn that her father, whom she never knew, owns the hospital – and she has a half-brother the same age. As she recovers, she begins to bond with the family she never knew and take steps toward her dreams of working in the medical field even as she tries to deal with her own grief and her romantic interest in one of her brother’s best friends.


The Miracle & Tragedy of the Dionne Quintuplets by Sarah Miller. 4 stars. I’ve been captivated by the story of the first set of quintuplets to survive infanty since I was a kid. This book provided a lot more information than the autobiography We Were Five, which I read years ago. It’s an in-depth look at the quintuplets’ early lives through their teens, and then a more cursory biography of their adulthood. There’s a lot of focus on financial matters and the quints’ growing awareness of their own celebrity.

A Catholic Guide to Spending Less and Living More: Advice from a Debt-Free Family of 16 by Sam and Rob Fatzinger. 4 stars. This book took me back to the early days of my marriage, when we lived on one income and I scoured The Tightwad Gazette (borrowed from the library, of course!) for money-saving tips as my financial contribution to the family. Not only does this book contain plenty of tips that families (or singles) can use regardless of their family situation, it also simplifies some basic financial concepts and offers spiritual insight about how we use our money. Sam and Rob Fatzinger share their own stories of figuring out the best ways to save money and stay out of debt while living on one income. Recommended especially for newly married couples and singles starting out on their own. (Advance review copy received from the publisher, Ave Maria Press; available now)

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!)

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

4 thoughts on “On my bookshelf: April 2021 Reads

  1. I got hung up on “cheese shop,” because that sounds like a place I’d like to inhabit! I absolutely loved Nicole Deese’s book (although no cheese shop was involved). There were sticky buns though, weren’t there? You’ve Reached Sam sounds like a great one – adding that to my list. Oh, and we had our own copy of The Tightwad-Gazette early in marriage!

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