Open book autumn

An Open Book: October 2021 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:


Jennifer the Damned by Karen Ullo. This is not at all the kind of book I usually read. I don’t touch horror or vampire fiction at all. It is a testament to Karen Ullo’s skill as a writer that I stuck with this book beyond the first 2 chapters – and more than that, couldn’t wait to keep reading. Normally I think of horror books as about as anti-Catholic as they can be, with religion either anathema or afterthought or, at best, superstition. But this is a very, very Catholic book, dealing with themes of conscience, our immortal souls, and the overarching power of the sacraments. The many sides of the title character are well explored: Jennifer as vampire, Jennifer as teenager trying to fit into that world, Jennifer as a child abandoned by her mother (and clearly traumatized by the facts of her own situation and what her mother has taught her), Jennifer as a young woman raised in a convent by religious sisters who don’t know the whole story.

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan. A World War II novel of the British home front. This book really brought home the kinds of deprivations citizens of the UK suffered during the war. Two sisters, a servant, and a professional chef compete for the opportunity to host a radio show helping homemakers work around food shortages and serve nutritious and good-tasting food to their family. All of them face threats to their way of life, and their stories intertwine in interesting and surprising ways. The book includes recipes, but except for the scones, I’ll pass (sheep’s head roll? no way). This was an enjoyable story, with an ending you won’t see coming.

A Freedom Such as Heaven Intended by Amanda Lauer. The latest “Heaven Intended” book, set in the same timeline as A Life Such as Heaven Intended, follows a group of runaway slaves as they begin a perilous and uncertain journey to freedom. Plenty of historical detail leaves the reader immersed in the world of Civil War-era Georgia, as characters struggle to discern whether to risk their lives in the service of others. Faith plays a role, in often surprising ways, in the twists and turns of the plot of this compelling novel. (Advance copy provided by the author.)

A Song for the Road by Kathleen M. Basi. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel where I’ve identified so deeply with a character as I did with Miriam Tedesco, who undertook a cross-country road trip a year after the death of her husband and their twin teenagers in order to handle some unfinished business that was deepening her grief. It wasn’t so much Miriam’s circumstances as it was her personality that I related to: she reacted to things in much the same way I do. Along the way, Miriam encountered a young pregnant woman traveling alone and clearly hiding a medical secret. Outside of a few misses in the Catholic details (Miriam was the music director at a Catholic church) this was a flawless read.

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline. A young woman, physically handicapped due to a mysterious childhood illness (rheumatic fever or polio?), lives in an isolated area of coastal Maine. Artist Andrew Wyeth used her as the inspiration for a famous painting, as she hosted him in the summer for two entire decades, even as her own isolation and physical limitations made the scope of her world no larger than her own living room. This is the kind of book you wish would go on forever – and at 352 pages, it’s good and long already – perfect for a long winter’s read!

The Fault Between Us by Bette Lee Crosby. Historical fiction about the San Francisco Earthquake. Templeton, a driven young woman from Philadelphia who wants nothing more than to create her own fashion line, has a whirlwind romance with a man from California, who marries her and brings her to his grand home in San Francisco. Templeton throws herself into fulfilling her professional ambitions, leaving ideas about family life to the side until tragedy strikes: while she is back in Philadelphia visiting family and experiencing a complicated pregnancy, the earthquake devastates her neighborhood, and her father makes a perilous journey to California to try to find Templeton’s husband. I couldn’t put this one down.



Dare to be MoreDare to be More: The Witness of Blessed Carlo Acutis by Colleen and Matt Swaim. The 48-page book contains photos of Carlo Acutis throughout his life: as a young child, in kindergarten, building a snowman, praying in an Adoration chapel, and even with his puppy and his soccer team. The book, appropriate for readers 10 and up, discusses the many ways this teenager changed others’ lives for the better. The Swaims explain the Church’s process of declaring someone a saint and describe the miraculous healing of a child in Brazil, healing that has been attributed to the intercession of Carlo Acutis. This led to Acutis’ beatification in October 2020. (Advance copy received from publisher. Read my full review.)



Saintly Moms: 25 Stories of Holiness by Kelly Ann Guest. Moms need friends to inspire us in our vocation, no matter what our stage of motherhood. Kelly Guest’s book introduces you to 25 saintly friends to encourage you in the challenges of parenting. Meet a new holy BFF, and gain a fresh perspective on familiar motherly saints. Saints highlighted in this book include the Blessed Mother, St. Monica, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Rita of Cascia, Venerable Margaret Bosco, St. Gianna Molla, and more, and for the most part are arranged in chronological order. (Advance copy received from publisher; full review coming soon.)


Behold the Handmaid of the Lord: A 10-Day Personal Retreat with St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary simplifies de Montfort’s approach without watering down its wisdom. The book, new from Ave Maria Press, is a do-it-yourself retreat that helps readers learn more about Marian consecration. Fr. Edward Looney dedicates each of the ten days of the retreat to a different title of Mary, consolidating teachings from True Devotion to Mary to clarify the rich writings and deepen devotion to the Blessed Mother. His writing style is clear and approachable, and both his scholarship and dedication to Mary are evident throughout the book. Each day’s chapter is 10 pages or less (in a small-format book; it measures just under 5×7 inches) and begins with a teaching on that day’s title of Mary, a prayer for the day, and a traditional Marian prayer or hymn. (Advance copy received from publisher. Read my full review.)


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 Szyszkiewcz

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4 thoughts on “An Open Book: October 2021 Reads

  1. Ooh – you read some great books last month! One I’ve read; a few are on the list. A Piece of the World sounds really intriguing. Thanks for linking to An Open Book!

    • Thanks, Carolyn. That was a good read – but quite the tragic story. So beautifully written.

  2. Good job sticking with Jennifer the Damned! That book can get a bit gruesome, so it’s not for the faint of heart. And I love reading your review of Behold the Handmaid of the Lord-when I introduce people to Marian consecration, I typically steer them towards Fr. Gaitley’s book, since it seems more approachable to the typical modern layperson, but I love, absolutely love, de Montfort’s book. I think it’s wonderful that this “simplified de Montfort” approach is now available!

    • Thanks, AnneMarie. Yes, it was quite gruesome, but Karen has the storytelling chops to keep me reading it anyway! I don’t think I’ve read horror since my middle-school days when “The Amityville Horror” came out. Regarding Fr. Looney’s book, it is a tougher read than Fr. Gaitley’s for sure, because it’s loaded with de Montfort quotes, and it’s definitely meant as a de Montfort appetizer, so to speak: “You can do this!” Very well done – I’d expect nothing else from Fr. Looney.

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