#AnOpenBook: December 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:

Christmas Books

I don’t wait until Christmas to read Christmas novels. I don’t even wait until Advent. Bring on all the Christmas stories!

Christmas Town Bake-Off, a novella collection with 7 connected stories by different authors. It’s pretty impressive that not only did the authors connect the stories, they continued a narrative begun in the first one so that the reader sees the whole bake-off going from beginning to end as the stories progress. To find out who wins the contest, you need to read all the stories.


Merry Ex-Mas by Courtney Walsh. Marin, angling for her own morning show, arrives unnanounced at her parents’ home (which she hasn’t visited in several years) to film a series about her mother’s Christmas traditions—only to find that they’re hosting her ex-boyfriend, who’s staying in her old bedroom. Max agrees to a fake relationship to boost ratings and social-media stats, and it quickly becomes clear that he’ll do just about anything for her and that she’s oblivious to her own feelings for him.


One Imperfect Christmas by Myra Johnson. This is not your standard Hallmark-movie Christmas novel. It’s the story of a family in crisis: Natalie, the mom, feels guilt about the injury that landed her mother in a nursing home—even though it wasn’t actually her fault. She has allowed this guilt to paralyze her emotionally, affecting her relationship with her husband and their teenage daughter. Unable to pull it together to celebrate the holiday with her family, Natalie throws herself into her work as a graphic designer, even as she suspects that someone is sabotaging her work in a fledgling small business.


A Bellwether Christmas by Laurel Guillen. This novel based on true events takes place in and near Greccio, Italy. Franciscans know this place as the birthplace of the Nativity scene! St. Francis of Assisi organized a living Nativity as a way to teach the people of Greccio about the birth of Christ. In this novel for middle-grade readers (grades 4 and up), a smart and curious lamb named Bart sets some events into motion that allow him to meet St. Francis, participate in the Nativity, and bring about a sweet reunion. Recommended for independent readers or classroom read-alouds. This book has terrific woodcut-style illustrations to go with the story, and Bart is quite the unforgettable character! (review copy received from publisher)


The Merchant’s Curse by Antony Barone Kolenc (Harwood Mysteries Book 4) continues Kolenc’s series for middle-grade and teen readers with an extra dose of suspense. As Xan and his companions progress through their teen years, the challenges they face—both in their faith and in their struggle to protect themselves and those they love from the very real threats they experience—have ever-higher stakes. In this story, Xan’s uncle William, who has provided him with both meaningful work and shelter, comes under threat when his business partner becomes deathly ill. His partner’s nephew, Nigel, blames the illness on a curse from a woman reputed to be a witch, but evil also seems to be lurking around William’s shop in the form of a group of thugs, and Nigel furthers the danger by befriending an enemy of the king. While you don’t have to read this series in order, I recommend that you do. Check out my reviews of Shadow in the Dark, The Haunted Cathedral, and The Fire of Eden(review copy received from publisher)


Into the Spotlight by Leslea Wahl is a re-release of the author’s YA novel, originally titled An Unexpected Role. This story gets to the heart of a character who just can’t fit in! This story is about a high-school theatre geek who doesn’t fit in with the cool kids and who’s been the target of some in-person pranks and cyberbullying. Seeking a fresh start, she spends the summer with her aunt, only to keep running into one of the cool kids from home. Josie and Ryan get wrapped up in trying to solve a rash of local robberies. Great characters, painfully real situations, mystery and even a love interest—with some wisdom on the side. Well done! (Netgalley)



One Church: How to Rekindle Trust, Negotiate Difference, and Rekindle Catholic Unity by Charlie Camosy is an important read, but not an easy one. It’s not that the writing style or subject matter is particularly complex or scholarly, but rather that the material hits home in a way that’s sometimes uncomfortable. Dr. Camosy examines a number of stereotypes in Church life (the boomer, the millennial trad, the “Christmas & Easter Catholic,” and others). After describing the “thin caricature” he goes on to deepen the discussion by examining what is in the heart of the person fitting the stereotype, what gifts and truths are proclaimed, and opportunities for unity in diversity. The author plays no favorites throughout the book, but treats each of the represented groups fairly, with continued reminders that everyone brings something important to the Church as a whole, and that stereotypes rob people of their dignity. A must-read for anyone who serves the Church, in particular. (Netgalley)


America’s Mary: The Story of Our Lady of Good Help by Marge Steinhage Fenelon. This book tells the story of Our Lady of Good Help, the only Church-approved Marian apparition in the USA. It’s fascinating, especially the Franciscan connections I’m seeing throughout—the visionary, Adele Brise, was a Secular Franciscan! I learned so much from this beautiful new book.


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 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

5 thoughts on “#AnOpenBook: December 2022

    • I’m not a big TV watcher, so Christmas novels/novellas are my equivalent of the Hallmark-escape genre.

  1. This seems to be the first year in ages that I haven’t reviewed any Xmas stories. These sound good. Popping by via #AnOpenBook

  2. Love your posts. I love that Christmas Town Bake-Off created a cohesive story with different authors. Sounds fun to read! I have to get Courtney Walsh’s book. There’s been such an explosion of Christmas rom-coms with illustrated covers that they are getting jumbled in my mind. Looking forward to reading Tony Kolenc’s new book and Marge Fenelon’s. I loved reading about Our Lady of Good Hope in Theoni Bell’s children’s book, The Woman in the Trees.

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