Stories of the Saints: A Giveaway of a Bold and Inspiring Book

Do you want to help your children understand that saints are not simply people who sit around and pray all the time? A new book of saint stories underscores the fascinating stories of some of the best-known saints. Stories of the Saints by Carey Wallace, illustrated by Nick Thornborrow, is subtitled “Bold and Inspiring Tales of Adventure, Grace, and Courage” – and it delivers.

From the Introduction:

Saints aren’t born better or braver than the rest of us . … Saints aren’t people who are always good and never afraid. They’re people who believe there must be more to life than just what we can see. This world may be hard and unfair, but saints believe in a God who is bigger than the world, whose law is love, and whose justice is mercy. And this faith gives them courage: to stand up to evil kings, to care for people everyone else forgets or hates, to slay dragons. … Led by their faith, they actually bring the better world to be, and invite us all in.

(ix)

The stories of 70 saints (71, actually, since Perpetua and Felicity’s stories are told together) are told in this oversized book that’s a perfect read-aloud for children 6 and up, and just right for independent readers in 4th grade and up. At the beginning of each saint’s story, you’ll find a box listing their vital stats: year of birth and death, location(s) where the saint lived and worked, emblem (something the saint is often depicted with in art), patronage, and feast day. The saints in this book are listed in chronological order by year of birth.

Which saints are featured in Stories of the Saints? Bishops with healing powers (Blaise), princesses who helped the poor (Margaret of Scotland), visionaries who pioneered a beloved form of prayer (Dominic), a pope who quit his job and was imprisoned by his replacement (Celestine V), a priest who was tortured rather than break the secrecy of the confessional (John Nepomucene), an artist who cried every time he painted a picture of the cross of Christ (Fra Angelico), a young woman who found a buried sword and saved her country (Joan of Arc), a priest who cared for slaves as they arrived in Colombia (Peter Claver), and many more.

The illustrations in this oversized hardcover book are done in a bold, modern style that evokes the active love the saints showed for God through their deeds.

Would you like to win a copy of Stories of the Saints for your young reader? To enter, leave a comment with the name of your favorite bold and inspiring saint.

One winner will be drawn from entries in the comments of this blog and comments on social media. One entry per person per platform: you can enter here, on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram on my posts about the book on those platforms.

This giveaway is open to winners with an address in the USA. Contest closes at noon Eastern on Friday, December 18. Winner will be notified by email or direct message (if winning entry was made on social media) and will have 48 hours to claim the prize. If prize is unclaimed, an alternate winner will be chosen. Prize will not likely be delivered in time for Christmas but I’ll do my best to get it mailed as soon as possible.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images courtesy of Workman Publishing. All rights reserved.
This article contains Amazon affiliate links. Your purchase through these links benefits my work.
I received a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions are my own.

Distracted by St. Joseph

Lately, during the quiet prayer time after Communion, something has been catching my eye. At this time of year, the sun slants just right to cast brilliant reflections from one of the stained glass windows onto a century-old statue of St. Joseph.

I’ve never really paid attention to that statue before.

To be honest, I’ve never really paid attention to St. Joseph before.

But in that quiet time, I look at that statue and I think about the saint. I reel in my thoughts from where they are trying to wander (I’m a mom, and a multitasker, and my thoughts are always wandering) and I think about what St. Joseph has to teach me.

This has been a fruitful distraction. After all, I could contemplate far worse things after Communion than what I can learn from a saint.

Everything we know about St. Joseph shows his caring love, his protectiveness, his sacrificial nature. Without saying a word, he shows us how to live.

Many times, we put our saints in boxes. Mary is a saint for women, and particularly mothers, we think. Men, and particularly fathers, have St. Joseph. And of course Mary is a beautiful patroness for women and mothers, and St. Joseph a wonderful patron for men and fathers.

But why should we limit the saints in that way?

Today, Pope Francis has proclaimed a Year of St. Joseph, beginning today (December 8, 2020) through December 8, 2021. The pope has also released an apostolic letter about St. Joseph, titled Patris Corde (With a Father’s Heart), and I am going to make it my business to read it in the days ahead.

Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. A word of recognition and of gratitude is due to them all.

(Pope Francis, Patris Corde, Dec. 8, 2020)

We have so much to learn from St. Joseph. Seek out ways he is portrayed in art — like the statue in my church. Most statues show St. Joseph carrying carpenter’s tools, but not this one. In this statue, he holds the toddler Jesus in one arm, and Jesus is grasping his other hand in that way young children do when they’re being held by someone they love and trust.

God trusted St. Joseph with the care of the Holy Family. We, too, can trust St. Joseph.

This year, let yourself be distracted by St. Joseph. Let him lead you to Jesus.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photo copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

Devotionals: A Gift that Lasts All Year

Devotionals are wonderful spiritual gifts for friends and family members. These beautiful books offer food for the soul; the three daily devotionals are all saint-focused, and the weekly devotional is designed with busy women in mind. You’re sure to find one to add to your gift list (or your own wish list).

In Caelo et in Terra: 365 Days with the Saints

by the Daughters of St. Paul (Pauline Books & Media)

This big, beautiful book of the saints is a collaborative effort of the Daughters of St. Paul, often nicknamed the “media nuns.” Their mission is to spread God’s word and make disciples through a variety of media, including writing and publishing.

In Caelo et in Terra features a saint for each day (and contrary to the subtitle, they’ve covered February 29 as well). As the book is larger than an average hardcover (about 7X10 inches), there’s plenty of space to include two substantial paragraphs about the life of each day’s saint on the page, along with a short reflection (with a great journaling prompt) and a prayer. Information on the saint’s patronage and feast day are included. You’ll also find a robust index, which lists the saints by name, liturgical feast day, and patronage – so this is a reference book as well as a devotional.

Each page is beautifully embellished not only with designs of leaves and clouds, which symbolize earth and heaven, but also with drawings of the saint of the day or sacred symbols related to that saint. The interior art, by Sr. Danielle VIctoria Lussier, FSP (who also designed the cover), is done in a consistent style that is simple and beautiful without being distracting.

A great gift for: RCIA and Confirmation candidates, teenage godchildren, and any teen or adult.


Brotherhood of Saints: Daily Guidance and Inspiration

by Melanie Rigney (Franciscan Media)

Melanie Rigney has a special love for sharing stories of the saints. In Brotherhood of Saints, a page-a day devotional for men, she has gathered the stories of 366 saints — ranging from the well-known and beloved Peter, Paul, Anthony of Padua, and John Paul II to more obscure but no less inspiring holy men. This book includes many men canonized within the past 50 years, such as Francisco Marto, Oscar Romero, and Louis Martin.

Following a paragraph about each saint’s life and a short analysis of how this saint is an example for us today, each daily entry contains an inspiring quote either written by the saint himself or from Scripture, and a challenge — a call to action. While all the saints in Brotherhood of Saints are men, women will find their stories equally inspiring.

A great gift for: the men in your life. Dads, grandfathers, brothers, teenage and young-adult sons, and RCIA and Confirmation candidates.


Sisterhood of Saints: Daily Guidance and Inspiration

by Melanie Rigney (Franciscan Media)

The sister volume to Brotherhood of Saints, this book was published in 2013.

Sisterhood of Saints spotlights 366 female saints, many of whom are little-known but far from little in their holiness. Of course, the book begins on January 1 with the Blessed Virgin Mary and includes Sts. Thérèse of Lisieux, Clare of Assisi, and Catherine of Siena, among other well-known saintly women. But author Melanie Rigney gives equal time to the lesser-known saints whose stories of virtue, sanctity, and challenges overcome will inspire any reader.

Following a paragraph about each saint’s life and a short analysis of how this saint is an example for us today, each daily entry in Sisterhood of Saints contains an inspiring quote either written by the saint herself or from Scripture, and a challenge — a call to action.

A great gift for: any woman, including teenagers, RCIA and Confirmation candidates.

Are you giving Christmas gifts to a couple (perhaps newlyweds)? This pair of books would make a lovely gift for the two of them!


Awaken My Heart: 52 Weeks of Giving Thanks and Loving Abundantly

by Emily Wilson Hussem (Ave Maria Press)

If you prefer a weekly devotional with a slightly longer (but still totally do-able, even for the busiest woman) format, Emily Wilson Hussem recently published a yearly devotional for women. Awaken My Heart: 52 Weeks of Giving Thanks and Loving Abundantly offers reflections designed to inspire moments of prayer during the week ahead.

Each of the 52 entries in this book runs about 4 pages and begins with a personal reflection by the author, who shares her own vulnerabilities before gently leading readers to prayerfully consider how God calls them to love themselves and others more deeply. Following the reflection, a Soul Exercise invites you to take time in the coming week to ponder, pray, and journal about that week’s topic. A short prayer concludes each week’s entry, and a simple border evoking bouquets of flowers runs along the bottom of every page.

Some of the topics covered in Awaken My Heart include jealousy, body image, fear, loving the elderly, choosing to change, saying no, giving thanks, becoming childlike, and letting go.

Carve out 30 minutes each week to sip your favorite hot beverage and ponder “how to live life present to the bountiful gifts God provides. … He leaves bouquets of blessings on every surface of our lives, and it’s up to us to notice.”

A great gift for: women of every age (college and up) who would like to live more intentionally instead of being carried along by the everyday distractions of our busy lives.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author. 
I purchased In Caelo et in Terra; all other books were review copies provided by the author or publisher. Opinions expressed here are my own; no compensation was provided for these reviews.

Gather Together: Recipes for Fellowship

The ultimate challenge in 2020 might be releasing a book about the blessings of gathering as friends … in the same week that several states restricted such gatherings to 10 or fewer — and some cities even prohibited getting together with anyone outside the household.

But we Catholics are people of hope. We know that these measures will not last forever, and we eagerly anticipate the day when we can gather outside our household or social bubble to enjoy food, fun, and fellowship.

In the meantime, there’s no point in wasting any of the wonderful recipes you’ll find in Catherine Fowler Sample’s new cookbook, Gather Together. I always recommend that you try a recipe on your family before serving it to guests — so now’s the time to taste-test these dishes, make note of any “to taste” seasoning adjustments you made, and bookmark the ones you’ll want to use when (finally!) you can invite friends over for a meal or afternoon tea.

In the Introduction, the author offers a few creative ideas for making connections with family and friends we can’t see in person:

You could make the recipes with loved ones over video chat, or plan an evening of reflection by phone based on the questions and prayer prompts. While distance makes forming community more challenging, the consistency of intentional connection can be a unique balm during uncertain times.

I firmly believe that the best kind of cookbook is one I can read like a novel or memoir. Gather Together is that kind of cookbook. Each chapter begins with a story from the author’s life, along with a spiritual reflection, a prayer for gathering, a few conversation prompts, and a soup-to-nuts themed menu for brunch, dinner, or afternoon tea. Each menu offers at least four dishes including dessert. 

Gather Together, which releases Friday, November 20, was written with both the cook’s and the guests’ needs in mind. Author Catherine Fowler Sample anticipated the possibility of substitution of certain ingredients containing dairy, as well as where in your grocery store you should look to find specialty ingredients. There are also prep-ahead tips, and along with ingredient lists for each recipe, there’s a list of kitchen equipment needed. That’s a feature I almost never find in cookbooks (and I have a big collection of cookbooks) — but whether you’re a beginner cook or very confident in the kitchen, having this list handy saves you time. When I taught my children to cook, I told them to always get everything in place (ingredients and equipment) before you start. Gather Together makes all of that easy.

If you think the cover is beautiful, wait until you see what’s on the inside of this book! Gather Together would make a wonderful engagement or wedding gift; it’s also perfect for a young person moving to his or her first apartment. But since it’s about building community as much as cooking, this cookbook is an excellent housewarming gift as well.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author.
I received a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation, for this review. All opinions are my own.

Pre-Advent Giveaway!

Is Advent coming up faster than you expected it to this year? It’s like that for me, for sure. While I can’t help you with the pink and purple candles, I’m happy to say that thanks to my friends at Creative Communications for the Parish, I have 10 Advent prize packs to offer readers this year (plus 3 bonus prizes)!

Wonderful Life in Christ prize pack from Creative Communications for the Parish
(Advent wreath and gift bag not included in the prize)

Wonderful Life in Christ prize

This prize pack includes:

Our Greatest Gift: A Wonderful Life in Christ by Michael Hoy, a page-a-day devotional based on the scenes and themes of the Christmas classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life, placing the events of the fictional George Bailey story in the context of our faith.

Hear the Angels Sing! Christmas carol sticker book

Hark, the Herald Angels Sing by Stephanie Hovland, a daily prayer book for Advent based on the angel messages in the Old and New Testament.

Prayer bookmark for Advent


Prince of Peace prize pack from Creative Communications for the Parish
(Advent wreath and gift bag not included in the prize)

Prince of Peace prize pack

This prize pack includes:

Sarah Reinhard’s new booklet, Prince of Peace, offers four weeks of family devotions and related activities. The Advent themes of hope, peace, joy, and love are embodied in a weekly activity focused on helping others. 

Heavenly Peace, an Advent daily prayer devotional by Sarah Thomas Tracy, written to prepare readers for the coming peace of Christ.

Advent wreath table tent (no candles required!) with mealtime prayers for each week of Advent.

What Do I Wonder About Christmas? This set of 25 daily trivia cards are fun at meal time or to end the school day.

Prayer card and Prince of Peace ornament


I also have three bonus copies of Prince of Peace to give away!

To enter: Leave a comment on this post or on the posts on Facebook or Instagram stating your biggest Advent challenge.

More opportunities to be entered to win these prizes will be offered on social media, so be sure to visit the posts at the accounts linked above for bonus chances to win!

The fine print: This giveaway is open to winners in the USA only. This giveaway closes at 6 AM Eastern on Tuesday, November 17. 13 winners will be chosen at random and will be notified by email (for winners on this blog) or by direct message on Facebook or Instagram. Winners will have 48 hours to reply with their mailing address; unclaimed prizes will be awarded to alternate winners.

Image created in Visme.co

Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photos of prizes provided by Creative Communications for the Parish

#OpenBook: My October 2020 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.

Sorry for the crazy big images, but free WordPress has forced me to use Blocks, and I can’t figure out how to put images into a paragraph in the size I want. (And at this point, I’m not in the mood to fight with it.)

Fiction

Things We Didn’t Say by Amy Lynn Green
I can never resist an epistolary novel and this is one of the best I’ve read. Chronicling just under a year in the life of a brilliant linguistics scholar toward the end of World War II, this story takes a hard look at our nation’s treatment of entire ethnic groups while we were at war with their native country. Effectively forced to work as a translator in a POW work camp in rural Minnesota, Jo Berglund, who had befriended an American young man of Japanese descent at the university, finds herself in an impossible position because of her insistence on seeing the German prisoners not as a collective enemy tool but as individual human beings. (Netgalley review)

The Christmas Table by Donna VanLiere (Christmas Hope, #10)
A poignant Christmas tale involving two families and one table. In 1972, a young husband begins building a kitchen table for his wife, who eagerly begins learning to cook using her mother’s memories. The table – with those same recipes still in the drawer – shows up in a secondhand furniture shop nearly five decades later, and its new owner is determined to get those recipes back to the family where they belong, learning a sad family story in the process. (Netgalley review)

The Words Between Us by Erin Bartels
Robin Windsor, who’s been living under a sort of self-imposed witness protection program since her parents were imprisoned while she was a teenager, finds her carefully protected life upended when she begins receiving books related to a time in her life she’d rather forget. As she strives to save her struggling indie bookshop, she endeavors to preserve her anonymity and keep old memories from taking over. A compelling story I’d be happy to reread.

The Dress Shop on King Street (Heirloom Secrets #1) by Ashley Clark
A vintage gown, two antique buttons, and an embroidered flour sack are the only clues to a mystery involving a biracial slave girl sold away from her mother at the age of 9, a young woman in the post-WWII South trying to pass as white, and a present-day college student trying to make it as a fashion designer. Two sweet love stories and heartbreaking family secrets make this a tough book to put down. (Netgalley review; releases 12/1)

Circle of Quilters (Elm Creek Quilts #9) by Jennifer Chiaverini
This was my first time dipping back into the Elm Creek Quilts series in several years. The author skillfully interweaves the stories of a group of applicants vying for two open teaching positions at the Elm Creek Quilt retreat. An enjoyable novel (and series) with characters who are talented, but who show their human side. Definitely requires the reader to be familiar with the series.

YA/Children’s

I’m a Saint in the Making by Lisa M. Hendey, illustrated by Katie Broussard
This children’s book has a message for grownups as well as kids: saints are superheroes, and we are called by God to be heroes too. Every saint is both a role model and a prayer champion, Lisa maintains, and in language simple enough for kids (without ever talking down to them) she demonstrates how they can strive for both those goals in their everyday lives. A wonderful variety of saints, from the days of the early Church through modern times, is represented. Illustrations are fun, inclusive, and engaging, and include many wonderful details about the saints discussed in the book.

The Spider Who Saved Christmas by Raymond Arroyo, illustrated by Randy Gallegos.
Readers familiar with Charlotte’s Web will enjoy another story in which a friendly spider selflessly takes risks to save someone else. Unlike most stories that feature “saves Christmas” in their title, The Spider Who Saved Christmas isn’t about removing obstacles that threaten to prevent Santa’s delivery of gifts to children. Instead, it’s about a lowly creature willingly accepting a dangerous mission to save the Son of God. Not only does this book tell a wonderful story, it’s an excellent catechetical tool for the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Read my full review.

Nonfiction

Let Go of Anger and Stress! Be Transformed by the Fruits of the Holy Spirit by Gary Zimak.
This book explores each of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit (found in Galatians 5:22-23) and demonstrates how living out the Fruits of the Spirit in mind can change our lives. Anger and stress are the opposite of the Fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control), and Gary discusses how yielding control of our lives to the Holy Spirit will give us the grace to resist the temptation to give in to stress and anger. (Review copy provided by publisher.) Read my full review.

Complaints of the Saints: Stumbling Upon Holiness with a Crabby Mystic by Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP.
With each of the 66 chapters running just over two pages, Complaints of the Saints is an excellent spiritual read for people who don’t think they have time for spiritual reading. The last section of the book emphasizes our call to do better: to follow the holy example of the saints who, we have seen throughout the book, have lived with difficulties and challenges and learned to handle those with grace. Sr. Mary Lea offers concrete ideas at the end of each chapter that will help us channel our negativity in a better direction. (Review copy provided by publisher.) Read my full review.


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!

Praying for the Souls in Purgatory: A Rosary, a Novel, and a Prayer Book

I was called on to sing at a funeral Mass one day this past summer, and after I read the obituary it became clear that the death was due to addiction. Sadly, this is not the first in that family to die in this way. These are not people I know, but they live in my neighborhood.

On the night before the funeral, I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night and that was on my mind. I couldn’t go back to sleep because I kept thinking about it, so I decided to pray a Rosary. On the bedside table, I had a knotted-twine Rosary made for me by a friend.

I dedicated that Rosary for the repose of the soul of that recently deceased young man.

As soon as I finished the whole Rosary, I went right off to sleep. I guess I was not being let off the hook — I needed to pray for him right that minute.

In the morning before the funeral, I got in touch with the friend who had made that Rosary for me, and asked her to pray too.

An urgent impulse to pray for a soul who has clearly struggled in life is not something we should ignore. And who better to intercede for such a soul than the Blessed Mother — our Mother?

As we commemorate the holy souls this month, let’s remember them in our prayers, especially in the Rosary.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.


Scared straight: but with Purgatory.

The story above reminds me of Theresa Linden’s novel, Tortured Soul, a compelling tale of a haunting — with a twist. Jeannie Lyons is pushed out of her family’s home by her older brother and into a remote cottage that also houses a gruesome “presence.” Afraid to be at home, but with nowhere else to go, Jeannie enlists the help of the sort-of-creepy guy her brother had once pushed her to date. This edge-of-the-seat story of guilt and forgiveness emphasizes the importance of praying for the souls of the deceased — and would make a great movie.

Tortured Soul reminded me deeply that the deceased need our prayers — not only our deceased loved ones and friends, but in particular those who have no one to pray for them. Maybe they were alienated from family during their lives, as depicted in Linden’s novel; maybe their loved ones don’t pray. But we can, and we should.


Susan Tassone’s The Saint Faustina Prayer Book for the Holy Souls in Purgatory focuses on the power of intercessory prayer for the needs of the Holy Souls in Purgatory.

The Saint Faustina Prayer Book for the Holy Souls in Purgatory contains more than prayers. You’ll also find essays on conversion, sin, penance, Purgatory and the spirituality of St. Faustina Kowalska. Organized by theme, the book leads the reader through learning and devotions.


Download a free set of printable bookmarks with the prayer for the holy souls, and make a commitment to pray for them every day.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was provided a free review copy of Susan Tassone’s book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Eliminate the Negative: Two New Books that Encourage Holy Habits

As we approach the month when we celebrate All Saints, it’s good to look to their example — and their advice on living holy lives. New books by Gary Zimak and Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP, aim to help readers conquer our tendency toward negativity, as shown in anger, stress, and complaining.

Let Go of Anger & Stress! by Gary Zimak employs St. Paul’s wisdom about the Holy Spirit as an encouragement to transform our mindset. Subtitled “Be Transformed by the Fruits of the Spirit,” this book explores each of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit (found in Galatians 5:22-23) and demonstrates how living out the Fruits of the Spirit in mind can change our lives.

Anger and stress are the opposite of the Fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control), and Gary discusses how yielding control of our lives to the Holy Spirit will give us the grace to resist the temptation to give in to stress and anger.

It’s significant that the call to action in the book’s title is “let go” and not “conquer” or “get rid of” — that shows that we are holding anger and stress much too close, and are all too ready to grab them out of our emotional toolkit. Gary’s book explains the ways St. Paul challenges us, instead, to reach for positive virtues: the Fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Each chapter of Let Go of Anger & Stress! is divided into short sections, so if you don’t have a lot of time to read all at once, that won’t be an obstacle. The chapters end with a list of the most important points, several reflection questions (keep your journal handy!), and a closing prayer.

If you’ve listened to Gary speak at a parish mission, podcast, or radio appearance, Gary’s writing style will be immediately familiar to you. He writes like he talks: simply and honestly, with relatable examples from his own life. His books aren’t filled with buzzwords, jargon, or complicated theology; instead, you will find sincere words from someone who clearly loves God and wants to follow His will.  

Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP, goes by @CrabbyMystic on social media, so it’s not a reach that she’d write Complaints of the Saints: Stumbling Upon Holiness with a Crabby Mystic. Anyone who knows me knows of my tendency to complain (even if I turn it into a joke, I’m still often complaining), so it’s a comfort to me that saints (AKA people much holier than I am) complained too.

But just because St. Paul, St. Teresa of Ávila, St. Thérèse of LIsieux, St. Damien of Molokai, and St. Faustina, among many others, had their moments of complaining, Sr. Mary Lea reminds readers that this is not an excuse for us to indulge that tendency. 

We aren’t getting off scot-free. If we learn from those who were holy before us, then we need to offer this same example to those whose paths we cross, as well as to those who will follow us. (127)

With each of the 66 chapters running just over two pages, Complaints of the Saints is an excellent spiritual read for people who don’t think they have time for spiritual reading. The last section of the book emphasizes our call to do better: to follow the holy example of the saints who, we have seen throughout the book, have lived with difficulties and challenges and learned to handle those with grace. Sr. Mary Lea offers concrete ideas at the end of each chapter that will help us channel our negativity in a better direction. Some of these include:

  • Pray the news in order to bring all the events of our history to God’s throne (138)
  • Read the life of a saint (80)
  • Pray for couples we know who are experiencing difficulties in their relationships (101)
  • Recall a disappointment that brought you closer to Christ (82)
  • Reflect on a time you blamed another for something that turned out badly (120)
  • Note Gospel incidents that might have sparked both human and holy reactions from those involved (37)

The last part of the book goes through the famous passage from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, the Characteristics of Charity, expanding upon St. Paul’s list with examples from the life and writing of saints and saints-to-be. It’s different from the rest of the book, but is an excellent summary of the ideas Sr. Mary Lea discusses in a lighter form in the earlier chapters.


These two books were released several months into a pandemic, and the challenges we have faced this year often seem like they’d lead even the most saintly person to complain and to give in to stress and anger. Gary Zimak and Sr. Mary Lea Hill’s understanding approaches and sound advice lead us to follow God more closely, even in difficult circumstances.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given free review copies of these books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

In the Christmas Basket: A New Picture Book by Raymond Arroyo

I am of the mind that you can never have too many Christmas storybooks for your children to enjoy. When my children were younger, we had a large basket of Advent- and Christmas-themed picture books, which we would bring out on the First Sunday of Advent, along with our Advent wreath and the empty stable from our Nativity scene. The kids looked forward to rereading their favorite stories, and sometimes I’d surprise them and slip a new one into the basket.

Raymond Arroyo’s new picture book from Sophia Institute Press is a wonderful addition to your collection of Christmas storybooks. The Spider Who Saved Christmas: A Legend, beautifully and vividly illustrated by Randy Gallegos, begins with the Holy Family on the run from King Herod, during the Slaughter of the Innocents.

Entering a cave to hide from Herod’s soldiers, Mary and Joseph notice a large spider protecting a sac of eggs. Joseph, fully on alert and wanting to protect Mary and Baby Jesus from all threats, slashes at the spider’s web with his staff, but Mary stops him, noting, “All are here for a reason. Let it be.”

As the family rests in the darkness of the cave, the distant wails of the slaughtered innocents and their bereaved mothers are heard. The spider, who wants to repair the web Joseph damaged with his staff, realizes that she needs to protect a Child not her own — so she calls forth her dozens of older children to help spin a thick web at the entrance to the cave, so that Herod’s soldiers will be tricked into thinking that no one is hiding inside.

Readers familiar with Charlotte’s Web will enjoy another story in which a friendly spider selflessly takes risks to save someone else. Unlike most stories that feature “saves Christmas” in their title, The Spider Who Saved Christmas isn’t about removing obstacles that threaten to prevent Santa’s delivery of gifts to children. Instead, it’s about a lowly creature willingly accepting a dangerous mission to save the Son of God.

The Spider Who Saved Christmas is based on an ancient Eastern European legend which tells the origin of the tinsel we often use to decorate Christmas trees.

Not only does this book tell a wonderful story, it’s an excellent catechetical tool for the Feast of the Holy Innocents.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author.
A review copy of this book was received from the publisher. Opinions are my own.

On Location: 2 Catholic Novels with Unusual Settings

Location, location, location: the Realtor’s motto might belong to authors as well. Two new novels published this season feature unusual settings. In both books, the main character lives in an out-of-the-ordinary place that figures prominently in the story.

Michael D. O’Brien’s The Lighthouse (Ignatius Press) is a beautifully written literary novel about a man without any family who becomes a lighthouse keeper in a remote area of Nova Scotia: on a tiny island off eastern Cape Breton Island (that’s three layers of islands if you’re keeping track). He can go weeks, or even months in winter, without seeing or speaking to a single soul. It’s mentioned that he suffered a painful childhood and was on his own by his mid-teens, so solitude is not a burden for him. 

But little by little, he opens up to some of the people who find their way to the island and some who live in the nearby town where he purchases groceries and other supplies. And as the years pass, he finds unexpected connections with some of them, and develops unexpected artistic talents that fulfill his unspoken need for the family he lacks.

I was privileged to read The Lighthouse while on vacation at the beach, and the background music of the waves and shore birds made me feel as if I were right there on Ethan McQuarry’s tiny island.

Because it’s always a good time to read a Christmas novel, Paraclete Press is releasing John Gray’s Manchester Christmas on November 10. Chase, a young writer looking for her next big story and a fresh start in New England, winds up in Vermont just after Thanksgiving and moves into a former church that has been converted into a private home. 

The stained-glass windows, all that remain of St. Pius Church’s original furnishings and features (because they could not be safely removed), appear to change every now and again, alerting Chase to dangerous situations to come. Immediately adopted by the community and catching the eye of a local farmer, Chase gets involved in Christmas festivities and hopes to bring an end to a painful chapter in Manchester’s past.

Manchester Christmas is a fun story, perfect for those times when you like a happy ending that brings a tear to your eye and a smile to your face.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz.
This article contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.