On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

An Open Book: Summer 2023 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 this summer:


nullA Cross-Country Wedding (Road Trip Romance Book 2) by Courtney Walsh is a fun follow-up to A Cross-Country Christmas. I couldn’t help but be charmed by these two characters—not the couple actually getting married, but their good friends who go along on a road trip that re-creates special moments for the engaged couple, culminating in their wedding at the end of the story. “Opposites attract” is never more true than for Maddie and Simon, whose longtime deep friendship might actually be getting in the way of their romance. And the clever banter does not disappoint. I definitely recommend reading the first book in the series before you dive into this one!


nullDedicated to the One I Love by Beth Vogt has plenty of funny moments to keep you reading. Romance writer Kylie can’t find a way to keep writing after her husband died, and suspense author Tate has been told he needs to add romance to his books. Forced into accepting help from Kylie, he discovers that she’s the woman he’s connected with in an online dating app. The scene in a bookstore where Tate is reading from his recent release is not to be missed. Enjoy this clean and funny romance.


nullRoots of Wood and Stone (Sedgwick County Chronicles 1) by Amanda Wen is the story of Sloane, a museum curator who’s dedicated to helping families discover and preserve their history. Her own family story is a mystery, as she’d been abandoned at birth. When Garrett shows up at her museum with diaries he found in the family home he needs to sell to get his grandmother the nursing care she needs, Sloane is torn between her attraction to him and her desire to save the historic property from the wrecking ball—and then learns of an unexpected connection to the house. I actually read the second book in the series, The Songs That Could Have Been, before this one, and found that it was so well-done, I didn’t need to have read this one first. I’d definitely recommend both!


nullThe Brick House Cafe and The Broken Hearts Bakery by Carla Laureano are so connected, I decided to review them together. I’m not usually one for magical realism, but this is a really well-done series (with two more books to come, one of which released Monday) easily drew me in—I preordered the September release immediately. The stories take place in the fictional southern Colorado town of Haven Ridge, a community that’s in decline compared to neighboring (real) towns like Salina, now tourist destinations. There’s something about this town, though—as the old-timers are known to say, “the town” knows who it wants to move there and stay there, and will set it up so that it becomes inevitable that those people will, indeed, stay. The Brick House Cafe introduces Haven Ridge and town matriarch Granny Pearl (a terrific character) along with her grandson Thomas and travel writer Mallory, who’s recently homeless after her live-in boyfriend dumped her for another woman. In The Broken Hearts Bakery, California lawyer Gemma returns to Haven Ridge to help a friend and reconnects with her high-school crush.


I received an unexpected review copy of An American Immigrant by Johanna Rojas Vann, and discovered that I couldn’t put this novel down! Melanie is a young journalist and daughter of a woman who emigrated from Colombia in search of a better life and a way to help support the family members who remained there. When Melanie travels to Colombia seeking a splashy headline that would save her career, she discovers the journals that detail her mom’s experiences as an illegal immigrant, experiences her mother had not shared with her or her siblings. Melanie’s dilemma of whether to share her mom’s story instead of the story she’d been assigned is at the center of this beautifully written novel about family loyalty, professional ethics, and the vocation of a writer. (Review copy received from publisher)


I thorougly enjoyed reading an endorsement copy of the upcoming YA time-travel novel, Royal and Ancient by Amanda Lauer, coming October 2 from Chrism Press. This novel is an illuminating peek into an era that’s frequently neglected in world history class. In this time-travel tale, Amanda Lauer deftly drops a 21st-century girl into a 17th-century world. Teen and adult readers alike will appreciate Bronwyn’s pluck and wit as she makes her way in an unfamiliar place and time and learns what it means to be persecuted for the faith. I’d recommend this one for ages 12 and up. At this time, preorders are available only through Chrism Press. (Review copy received from publisher)


nullMaria Riley’s pairing of Saint John Bosco, who looked out for children in crisis in his native Italy, with the story of a child nervous about his upcoming first day in a new school makes Saint John Bosco: The Juggling Saint relatable to any child who fears the unknown of a new experience. Children reading this book will discover a new saintly friend. Appropriate as an independent read for second grade and up, and as a read-aloud for first grade and up. This would be a wonderful book for parents and children to enjoy together and can spark conversation about how to handle new situations. A recommended back-to-school read! This is the third book in the “Adventures with the Saints” series. (Review copy received from the author)



The Life and Lessons of St. Zélie Martin by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur is a fascinating look at a saint I enjoyed learning more about. 150 years ago sounds like a long time, but as a working woman who owned her own business, Zélie faced many struggles we think are unique to our own era. This brief (52-page) biography, based largely on the letters of this future saint, details Zélie’s life, work, and worries, showing her spiritual struggles and growth. It’s also a compelling picture of life in 19th-century France. (Review copy received from the author)


Elizabeth Tomlin’s Joyful Momentum: Growing and Sustaining Vibrant Women’s Groups was the Catholic Mom Summer Book Club selection this year, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to reread this gem. It came out in early 2020, which was not the best time to introduce a book about how women can minister to each other through church groups. It wasn’t good timing for me, either. I was working two more-than-part-time jobs, had a senior in high school at home, and was dealing with the effects of a couple of medical emergencies members of my family had experienced the previous fall. Now, as parishes and ministries get back on their feet after the setbacks of the pandemic, this book is extremely timely. It’s packed with great advice, stories of Elizabeth’s own experiences with women’s ministries, and encouragement to women thinking of joining or beginning groups at their parish. (Review copy received from publisher)


null8 Steps to Energize Your Faith by Joe Paprocki (Loyola Press) is a simple, accessible book of hands-on advice when you want to give your spiritual life a needed boost. If you’re feeling stuck in a spiritual rut, Joe has plenty of do-able ideas that will help you break out of that frustration and transform your soul. This book is set up in a workbook format, with space at the end of almost every section for you to write a little bit as you work through the various ideas for renewing your spiritual life. Each chapter’s summary also includes several Scripture verses that support the concept discussed in that chapter. This is a good book to savor over time; I read a chapter a week during the summer and am glad I didn’t rush through the book. (Review copy received from publisher)


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.

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: Summer 2023 Reads

    • Thanks for visiting! If you read them, stop by again and tell me what you thought (or participate in An Open Book next month when it rolls around again) 🙂

  1. Thanks for sharing all of these reviews! I just added An American Immigrant to my list. It’s also neat to see your review of Joyful Momentum. I read that book when it first came out (and loved it) and it would be good to pick it up again.

    • I was definitely glad I picked up Joyful Momentum again. I think this is the perfect time to give that book a fresh launch!

  2. Oof – that was (unintentionally, of course) bad timing for Joyful Momentum. Nothing good had any momentum about then.

    An American Immigrant sounds great, and I added that and Carla Laureano’s books to my to-read list. I missed that she had a new series.

    Thanks for linking to An Open Book!

    • An American Immigrant was definitely a hit with me. It’s always fun to read about writers (this one’s a journalist) and this author did a terrific job with this story. My son’s girlfriend saw it on my coffee table and has borrowed it; so far she is really enjoying it too. Bonus: it’s a clean read (Waterbrook/Multnomah).

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