On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

An Open Book: July 2023

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:


nullBeyond Betrayal by Bette Lee Crosby. Widowed suddenly, Susan is devastated to learn that her husband has been unfaithful to her and that his mistress is expecting his child. She copes with her anger by turning to alcohol and makes life-changing decisions on a whim. But as is the case in so many of Bette Lee Crosby’s novel, it’s good friends who are able to help Susan turn things around. It’s easy to relate to the characters in this book—Susan as well as the various friends who help her, from her neighbor Jamie who shows up with casseroles, to Blanche who brings the tough love and convinces Susan to go out of her comfort zone, to Nina, a four-time widow who’s not afraid to risk her heart for husband number five. Despite the difficult situation at the beginning of the novel, it was a joy to read about the different ways these women used their gifts to minister to their friend.


nullI Think He Knows: A Romantic Comedy (Donovan Family Book 2) by Katie Bailey. This author’s books are described as “closed-door romantic comedies,” which I think is accurate. In this story, single mom Lana Mae agrees to a fake social-media engagement with Carter, her BFF who’s also her secret crush—and who just happens to be one of the hottest of the hot Hollywood actors. Her daughter, Allegra, is a scene stealer in all the best ways. There’s great chemistry between the characters, plus plenty of banter and inside jokes, and even a bunch of Gilmore Girls references. A fun, light read, with the expected “happily ever after.”


nullThe Happy Life of Isadora Bentley by Courtney Walsh. A university researcher who makes keeping to herself a way of life (jeopardizing her professional advancement along the way) decides, on her 30th birthday, that she’ll poke holes in the theories she finds in a magazine article that details ways to be happy. Her goal is to prove that doing all the things listed in that article will not make her (or anyone else) any happier.

It’s easy to see that this research project won’t turn out the way Isadora expects it to, but that’s because of the very unexpected people she encounters as a result of her research.  This novel was a great read with characters it’s easy to connect with.


nullWedding at Sea (Muir Harbor book 3) by Melissa Tagg. Wilder has spent the 5 years since his father died trying to solve the mystery of how Lilian, as a toddler, appeared on Maggie’s front porch. Lilian, now an adult, has never gotten along with Wilder, but Maggie asks them to work together to plan her wedding … and in the process, the two have to confront the truth of a secret Lilian has been keeping, as well as the demons Wilder faces. In addition, someone’s been lurking around Lilian’s office and Wilder’s houseboat, and their guess is that not only is he seeking to solve the same mystery, but he’s not above putting them in danger to do so.

I’m a little sad to see this series end, because there were some side characters in this book who would have interesting stories, too. This is the final book in the series, and I definitely recommend reading them in order. (Netgalley)


nullThrough Thorny Ways (Wisteria House book 1)  by Jennifer Q. Hunt. A brother and sister with a challenging past move into the dilapidated family home they’ve inherited, just after World War I ends. Arilee is raising her brother’s children because his wife has been committed to an asylum; their other brother died in the war. An old acquaintance is hired to renovate the home and given a place to live on the property, and his startling discovery threatens to bring (more) scandal to the family. There was an interesting subplot involving a character with juvenile diabetes and the discovery of insulin, without which the disease is a death sentence.

I enjoyed this story of new beginnings and healing of old wounds, and will look for more by this author.


nullAll’s Fair in Love and Christmas by Sarah Monzon. A hilarious story that would easily make a terrific movie (I’d watch!). Mackenzie works in an office where, each year, a promotion is tied to a competition over who has the most Christmas spirit. This year, her boss pits Mackenzie against Jeremy, who’s determined to win because he’s raising his twin niece and nephew, and needs the money for their education. Mackenzie has a secret crush on Jeremy but thinks he doesn’t know she’s alive—and now she’s battling for career advancement by dragging in Christmas trees and one-upping him after disasters involving baked goods. A fun read. (Netgalley; releases September 5, 2023)



Charting the Course by Leslea Wahl. This novel, set during Christmas vacation, makes a fun summer read. Leslea Wahl’s characters are fun-loving and real, and Liz, the main character in this novel, is no exception. She’s missing Christmas week with her friends back home while on a Caribbean cruise with her dad, and she’s not happy about it at all. But the combination of a cute guy her own age, some mysterious notes that appear to be a scavenger hunt, and a karaoke contest make the trip better than she’d planned–and even an opportunity to grow in faith.

(Contains spoilers from Into the Spotlight. This novel is a standalone, but if you haven’t read Into the Spotlight first, I recommend that you do—because you’ll want to get to know Josie and Ryan, who star in that book.)


nullThe Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart. This is a beautiful story I’d recommend to adults and teens alike. It’s listed for ages 9 to 12, and I thought that was a little young given the subject matter: Coyote and her father, Rodeo, live in a school bus that’s converted into an RV of sorts, and criss-cross the nation, with one exception: they never return to the home town (or even the state) they left 5 years ago when Coyote’s mom and two sisters died.

Everything seems fine until Coyote learns that the park where she and her sisters had buried a time capsule is being bulldozed—so she tries to find a way to trick her dad into driving thousands of miles to get to the park in time to retrieve the last memories she has of her family. Along the way, they pick up an interesting band of passengers, including a musician, a mother and son fleeing an abusive relationship, a young girl whose parents kicked her out because she’s gay, and Gladys … a goat. The story was lovely, but very sad, as Coyote has had to grow up way before any kid should, since her dad is emotionally incapable of dealing with his grief. Would I give it to a fourth-grader? No. I’d say middle school and up is a better age range for this story.



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 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz

8 thoughts on “An Open Book: July 2023

  1. Great reviews! Beyond Betrayal sounds particularly good to me. I think it’d be an emotional ride but ultimately uplifting.

  2. Yes, that’s a great description of that book. I hope you enjoy it–come back and let me know!

  3. Thanks for sharing! I agree on “The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise.” I read it with my 12-year-old daughter and enjoyed it, but it is definitely a middle school and up book. I hadn’t realized it was recommended for such a young age group.

  4. Thanks for sharing the reviews! I’m adding “The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise” to my reading list; my kids are way too young for it, but I think I would enjoy the book.

    • It’s really good. I have to say, the Kindle price put me off but I guess that’s the way of things. I purchased a copy to give as a gift, too!

      • That’s Thomas Nelson publishing! That’s crazy though – $11.99! I can’t sell any ebooks at $3.99. If I priced that high, I might as well not even bother.

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