On Barb’s Bookshelf: Hope Upon Impact

As a kid, I used to borrow Reader’s Digest Condensed Books from my grandmother. I skipped over the adventure novels and romances in favor of family stories, especially the family memoirs that centered on children battling serious illness or overcoming challenges due to cerebral palsy, paralysis, or other circumstances — and then there was that one particular book about the family who adopted 19 kids, most with physical challenges.

I think such books would be harder for me to read now that I’m a mom. Childish curiosity would be replaced by empathy, because I know what it’s like for moms whose children face serious illness. I am one of those moms.

I eagerly read Julie Overlease’s memoir, Hope Upon Impact, even though I knew it covered that difficult topic: a mom suffering through, praying through, and powering through her sixth-grade daughter’s traumatic brain injury (TBI) after the child was struck by a large falling tree limb.

hope upon impact

Hope Upon Impact, recently published by Paraclete Press, is a combination spiritual memoir and medical miracle story. As I read this book, the community support that the Overlease family received after Evelyn’s accident stood out to me the most. Having endured two lengthy, critical, and overlapping medical crises in my close family this fall, I recognize the little and big ways people reached out to us. The church, school, and sports communities surrounding the Overlease family definitely took care of that family in a big way, and it was uplifting to see.

At the end of the book, the author quotes a homily from a priest at her parish, Fr. Justin Hamilton:

Everything we encounter in life is exactly what God knows is best for us, no matter how disagreeable or hard it is to embrace. That’s not at all to say that some things, like losing a loved one, dealing with a chronic illness, or losing one’s job are objectively good things. Rather, God is able to take painful, challenging events like this and apply them to our lives in such a way that they are transformed into the very best thing for us, the catalyst for the deepest growth, the best way to purify our love and sharpen our faith, if only we would embrace them just like He embraced His cross. The key to this is finding God in these moments, knowing that He is always present in our lives, if only we look for Him and ask Him to reveal Himself. (181)

Hope Upon Impact is an amazing story of God’s providence, community support, and family strength.


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

An Open Book: May 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:

Fiction

wartime sistersThe Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman.

5 stars (out of 5)

A lifetime of sibling rivalry comes to a head when little sister Millie and her young child arrive in Ruth’s new hometown, in need of a job and a place to live. Tired of being overshadowed by her pretty sister, Ruth refuses to break down the walls of resentment that have built up over the years, until it becomes obvious that Millie’s life is in danger. Set during World War II, at Springfield Armory in Massachusetts, where many civilians, including young mothers, worked ’round the clock on behalf of the war effort.

5th Avenue Story SocietyThe Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck.

4 stars (out of 5)

An unlikely group of people (an Uber driver, an apartment super, a literature professor behind on his PhD thesis, a cosmetics heiress, and an executive assistant with C-suite aspirations) receive mysterious invitations to a secret literary society at a local library. Curious, they all show up, and connect in ways that go far beyond literature.

Mr PenumbraMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

4 stars (out of 5)

 

Clay takes an overnight job in a hole-in-the-wall bookstore that quickly proves to be more than it initially appears. He draws upon his own technical knowledge and his roommates’ and friends’ abilities and professional contacts to uncover the mystery behind his secretive employer and the very unusual customers who frequent the shop. Well-written and will appeal to readers with technical backgrounds.

book charmerThe Book Charmer (Dove Pond #1) by Karen Hawkins.

4 stars (out of 5)

Dove Pond is an extraordinary small town that’s home to an extraordinary family, but this novel is really about another family. Planning on just a short stay, Grace, her aging foster mother who’s showing signs of dementia, and her orphaned niece move to town. Grace tries to protect her heart and remain disconnected, but the Dove sisters and other neighbors are determined to work their way in — except Trav, a physically and emotionally scarred Gulf War vet who lives next door. I’ll look for more by this author. (Netgalley review)

giver of starsThe Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes.

4 stars (out of 5)

I almost dumped this book early on. The first 3 chapters just didn’t grab me. But I’m glad I kept reading this surprising story of a British woman who married the son of a rich Kentucky mine owner and arrives in Appalachia not knowing what to expect. With a complicated relationship (central to the plot, and I won’t spoil it), she’s at odds in the household until an opportunity to help with a new WPA traveling library system arises. A compelling story of friendship, heartbreaking poverty, and a murder mystery.

 

YA/Children’s

FS front coverFire Starters by Theresa Linden.

5 stars (out of 5)

The teenage characters in Theresa Linden’s West Brothers series grapple with tough issues as they grow in faith. This novel centers on the sacrament of Confirmation, the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, and whether a person must feel ready before they can receive grace. This novel is a great read for teens in youth groups or sacrament prep. Read my full review and interview with the author.

Nonfiction

radical saintsRadical Saints by Melanie Rigney.

5 stars (out of 5)

Melanie Rigney introduces 21 saints who endured much and persevered in their commitment to God’s call in their lives. What makes these saints radical is not extreme beliefs or practices; it’s simply that they chose to love God and their neighbor without reserve. Anecdotes about Melanie’s contemporaries who embody the same values as these saints reinforce the concept that everyday women can embody the same gifts that the saints do. Let the radical saints of the 20th century inspire you to face the challenges in your lifetime. (ARC received from publisher for endorsement.)

i heard god laughI Heard God Laugh: A Practical Guide to Life’s Essential Daily Habit by Matthew Kelly.

4 stars (out of 5)

An introduction to prayer, written in an engaging style for a Catholic audience that’s not necessarily engaged in spiritual life or regular worship. (ARC provided by publisher; longer review to come. Available August 15, 2020.)

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!

open book logo


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Theresa Linden Talks About her New Novel, “Fire Starters”

The teenage characters in Theresa Linden’s West Brothers series grapple with tough issues as they grow in faith. Fire Starters centers on the sacrament of Confirmation, the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, and whether a person must feel ready before they can receive grace. This novel is a great read for teens in youth groups or sacrament prep.

FS front cover

This is the final book in the series, which includes six books for teens and one spinoff novel for adult readers. I’m such a fan of the characters in this series that I’m really sad to see it go, and I admit to hounding Theresa a bit, trying to convince her to tell more West Brothers stories.

I guess that didn’t make her too mad, because she graciously answered my questions about Fire Starters, the West Brothers, and her other projects (she’s a busy writer!).

What made you choose a Confirmation-themed book as the one to end the series?

Several things … first, I have a special love for the Holy Spirit, and this is His sacrament. Through it, we receive a deepening of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit! But both the Holy Spirit and Confirmation are often misunderstood. Maybe it’s just that we can more easily relate to the other persons of the Blessed Trinity because of family. And the signs of the other sacraments make their grace clear. I love bringing Catholic truth to life through a story, so I hope this story will help readers understand both the Holy Spirit and Confirmation at a deeper level.

Second, since the current tradition in most Catholic rites is to receive Confirmation in the teen years, I thought it would be great to focus on this sacrament in this teen fiction series. I would love for my teen readers to understand the amazing grace we receive—just as the Apostles did on Pentecost, how we become soldiers of Christ in a war between the people of God and the powers of hell, how we receive supernatural help to defend our faith and advance the Kingdom of God.

Third, as I was writing Standing Strong, the fourth book in the series, I realized that the history I’ve created over the years for the West brothers made it likely that they missed this sacrament. The boys lost their mother at a young age and their father fell away from the faith as a result. They continued to attend Mass now and then with the Digbys, their live-in housekeeper and groundskeeper, but they did not continue their faith formation. So they missed Confirmation!

I also think it works well for a final story for this teen fiction series because Confirmation equips a person to live their faith as an adult. It is the foundation for each person’s vocation. So now the West Brothers are prepared for the world and their individual vocations, even if they don’t figure them out right away.

What has surprised you most about the West Brothers series?

While I know the characters inside and out and I enjoy writing the West Brothers stories, I found myself struggling to write this last book, Fire Starters. I guess I had a bad case of writer’s block. I even started to think that I would not complete the story, that I was done with writing.

Then a friend from church had to go out of town and asked me to take over her Adoration hour for two weeks. So I did. And while I was kneeling in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, the story themes began to come to me. I went home and started writing. My writer’s block was gone! I was able to write every single day until the story was completed, and it was completed in record time.

I feel bad for this year’s Confirmation candidates because of how different things are this year. Many won’t be Confirmed by a bishop, and there will likely be a limit to the number of people that can witness their Confirmations. So I’ve dedicated Fire Starters to them, and I’m happy that the book will be released on Pentecost.

Do you have a favorite among the main characters in the series? 

When I’m writing a story, I get so deep into the point-of-view character’s head. I understand why they make their choices, what they struggle with, and what their hopes and dreams are. So they are all my favorites!

Jarret’s perspective has always been fun to write. He starts the series, in Roland West, Loner, so completely selfish and egotistical. In the second book, Life-Changing Love, he’s even worse. His poor choices hurt others, but they also hurt himself. By the end of this book, through his younger brother’s persistence, he begins to think about the consequences of his actions. He takes a big step to change a big mistake, but he’s still not a transformed character.

In the third book, Battle for His Soul, when his twin stops following his lead and his girlfriend breaks up with him, he falls into a pit of despair. This is his guardian angel’s story, and I really enjoyed showing how much his guardian angels loves him and even how his younger brother, Roland, loves him, despite his mistakes. Jarret is a bit more vulnerable in this story, and his conversion at the end is the result of a hard-fought battle that many took part in.

In Standing Strong, he faces something we all do: how do you remain faithful to God when faced with the same temptations? He’s really trying by the final book in the series, Fire Starters, but he’s a bit hard on himself. It’s been fun to show this character’s struggles and growth. Jarret brings out the best and worst in the other characters too.

One of your sons is the inspiration for a character in this book. What’s the story behind his appearance in the novel?

My youngest son, Cisco, is sixteen. He loves reading. He never returns from the library without a massive stack of books. And he’s even written a few stories of his own, Walrus vs. Aliens being his favorite. While I was brainstorming ideas for Fire Starters, he asked if he could be a character in the story. He enjoys reading and writing, why not be a character in a story too? I loved the idea!

I used Cisco’s name, appearance, and skills for this minor character that becomes friends with Roland West. They meet at a shooting range. The West brothers have always enjoyed archery and marksmanship, and my son loves shooting too. He has participated in two different junior shooters programs for years and has always been quite good at it. He’s almost reached the expert level, which is as high as he can go with those programs!

Since Cisco enjoyed being a character, I might even write him into the dystopian I’m working on. Our dog, Rudy, who passed away some months ago, will also be a character in that story.

What other projects are you working on?

While my first love is teen fiction, I also write adult fiction and children’s books. I am currently working on the artwork for the Armor of God children’s chapter book fantasy-adventure series. Book two came out this May, and I hope to release the other four books in the series as soon as possible.

I have also started another book for teens, this one a historical dystopian. I know that sounds like a strange combination, but I’m really excited about this story. It begins in the year 33 AD and jumps forward to a dystopian future.

west brothers series

Synopsis:

The moment Peter Brandt discovers archenemy Jarret West is a Confirmation candidate, the ceiling of St. Michael’s Church caves in. He soon learns none of the West brothers have received the sacrament: Keefe is looking forward to it, Roland hates drawing attention to himself, and Jarret doesn’t think he’s worthy. Before Peter gets over his shock, whispers of bad news surround him. Parishioners suspect that the parish will soon close and be merged with a neighboring, newly remodeled church.

Peter’s friend Caitlyn is anxious to help, but her life comes crashing down when her mother leaves to aid her aged parents. Now Caitlyn is homeschooling with a neighboring family and caring for her younger siblings, and she can’t see her friends at school. Peter and Caitlyn soon suspect that someone might be behind the potential closing of their church. Not one to give up easily, Caitlyn suggests the Fire Starters help with preparing the West brothers and saving the church.

Read Them All!

While you don’t have to read the entire West Brothers series before reading Fire Starters, I definitely recommend that you do! This series includes a terrific cast of characters.

The West Brothers series (in order)

Roland West, Loner
Life-Changing Love
Battle for His Soul
Standing Strong
Roland West, Outcast
Fire Starters

 

Adult Spinoff from the West Brothers Series

Anyone But Him

anyone but hi

Visit TheresaLinden.com to learn more.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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

Last Things

He’s missing all the lasts.

Last spring musical (and many associated events with that).

Last student council events and meetings.

Last lunchtime pick-up basketball games with friends.

Last day of class.

Last school picnic.

I’m normally not into the graduation sign thing, but given all the last things he’s missing, I ordered the sign this year.

This afternoon, for possibly the last time, I exceeded the speed limit on the school’s back driveway to pick up that sign for my front lawn.

Normally I’m not very sentimental, and I tend to shy away from social events associated with school, but I’m feeling sentimental today.

He’s my last kid to attend this school, and he’s made the most of his time there. He’s lived through a total reinvention of the school when it became an independent Catholic school in June 2018. He took on a leadership role in the student council and played the lead in the spring musical last year (and was supposed to do that again, before the coronavirus brought the students home from school and effectively closed down the stage).

I am hoping that the prom and graduation (now scheduled for midsummer) will get to take place, so these 52 kids who have been through a lot will have the chance to properly say goodbye to each other.

As for me, I may have said my goodbyes at 40 miles per hour in the back driveway this afternoon. Just in case I don’t get the chance to do so this summer.

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Rainbow over the back of the school, April 2016. Copyright Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

An Open Book: April 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:

Fiction

subway girlsThe Subway Girls by Suzie Orman Schnall. The stories of a modern-day advertising executive and a postwar coed with big dreams intersect in this dual-timeline novel based on a real advertising campaign for New York’s mass-transit system. Seeking a fresh advertising angle, Olivia comes across records of the Subway Girls ad campaign and seeks to reinvent the concept. In the late 1940s, Charlotte chased her dreams of making it big in the advertising world, bypassing the typing pool in favor of an appearance on subway posters in the hopes of helping her family’s business and escaping family obligations. A little predictable, but an enjoyable novel.

victorias warVictoria’s War by Catherine A. Hamilton. A Polish Catholic teenager struggles to survive, keep her faith, and help others during World War II. Captured by Nazis, Victoria was sold as a slave to work in a German bakery, where the deaf daughter of the proprietors has already faced abuse due to the Nazi eugenics policy and regularly finds ways to assist pregnant women in labor camps and women captured as sex slaves. An intense novel filled with strong female characters.(Netgalley review; coming June 2020)

moondrop miracleMoondrop Miracle by Jennifer Lamont Leo. In 1928 a young socialite married an up-and-coming financier who loses his own fortune in the 1929 crash, along with that of many of his friends. Left to fend for herself with a baby on the way, Connie decides to market and manufacture the skin-care tonic her eccentric aunt invented (the recipe was given to Connie as a wedding gift). A cottage industry slowly develops into a skin-care empire in this well-told tale that paints a vivid picture of the mid-twentieth century. (Advance review copy received from author.)

logging offLogging Off by Nick Spalding. Andy Bellows is addicted to his cell phone, and his doctor recommends a total detox. Afraid he won’t be able to stick to the plan on his own, Andy agrees to let his journalist friend chronicle his digital detox journey. The results are hilarious. In the middle of a blind date gone terribly wrong, Andy befriends a barista who also wants to disconnect from her phone. Spalding’s tendency toward hyperbole keeps the story rolling along. Spot-on observations about what too much tech does to people, and a laugh-out-loud skewering of fake Instagram influencers. Very funny British fiction, with a generous sprinkling of f-bombs. (Netgalley review)

sweethaven summerA Sweethaven Summer by Courtney Walsh. Following her mother’s death, Campbell finds pages from an old scrapbook that lead her to reconnect with several of her mom’s childhood friends, hoping to get answers about her father’s identity. Old wounds from everyone’s past are reopened when the friends reunite in the resort community where they’d all spent their summers as teenagers. There’s a hint of a romance to come; I’m wondering if it might be part of the second book in the series — and I do intend to read that second book, because I truly did enjoy these characters and the charming small-town setting of the story. A good girlfriend novel that would make a fun, clean beach read.

barefoot summerBarefoot Summer (A Chapel Springs Romance Book 1) by Denise Hunter. This was an intense story about fear and forgiveness. Madison has dedicated herself to fulfilling her deceased twin brother’s lifelong dream: to win a local regatta before their 27th birthday. But because her brother died by drowning, she’s fearful of water and doesn’t know how to sail. And her swimming and sailing lessons wind up being with Beckett, the very man she blames for her brother’s death. As the regatta approaches, stress takes its toll on Madison and threatens her job. The book definitely had its predictable moments, and Beckett seemed to be too good to be true (even with his wrong-side-of-the-tracks origins) but it’s a good escape read.

loves trialLove’s Trial (First Street Church Romance Book 5) by Melissa Storm. I wasn’t a fan – at all – of Sally, the main character in this novel. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to like her; she’s spent most of her life and all her time in Sweet Grove pushing people away, but wishing she had friends. When the restaurant owner’s grandson, Toby, tries clumsily to flirt with her, she is so rude that I was amazed that he tried again to get to know her. But underneath the prickly character and rough beginning (this was so not a meet-cute) there was a worthwhile story about two wounded people who were both dealing with elders in their life with difficult conditions: one with severe agoraphobia and one with a disease that could be treated but who was too stubborn to take the medicine. It helps to have read other books in the series, but it’s not entirely necessary.

YA/Children’s

brother francisBrother Francis of Assisi by Tomie de Paola. Tomie de Paola was one of my favorite author/illustrators. His books aren’t for the youngest reader, but they’re wonderful read-alouds complemented by beautiful watercolor artwork. Tomie de Paola’s strength was in telling the stories of ordinary days, and in Brother Francis of Assisi, de Paola shines in depicting the everyday holiness of the extraordinary saint of Assisi. The book, newly re-released by Magnificat/Ignatius, offers vignettes about the life of St. Francis and his companions, with text on one page and the story on the other — the full episode on a single two-page spread. The story emphasizes simplicity, devotion, and reverence, and does not portray St. Francis as a political figure or activist. The book concludes with “The Song to the Sun,” which is popularly known as the “Canticle of the Creatures.” (Review copy received from publisher.)

drawing godFor children who enjoy art as much as (or more than) the story, Karen Kiefer’s picture book Drawing God (Paraclete Press) is just right. Kathy De Wit illustrated this book about a child who wants to draw something “beyond spectacular” and decides to draw pictures of God. Break out the art supplies and let your children’s imaginations take over as you encourage them to draw God after reading this story together. At the end of the book, the author offers five ways to bring the lessons in this story to life in your home, classroom, and heart. (Review copy received from publisher.)

Nonfiction

overcommittedOvercommitted: Cut Chaos and Find Balance by Rachel Balducci. This book is perfect for any mom who has too much on her plate, whether or not she works outside the home (maybe in these coronavirus days we need a new phrase for this?). Rachel Balducci candidly shares her own struggles with taking on too much and offers advice for evaluating commitments, making decisions, being willing to serve, and dealing with worry and fear. Each chapter ends with three tips, a personal reflection section that would make great journal prompts, a prayer tip, and a prayer starter. Highly recommended. I want to go through it again with a journal and highlighter close by.


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 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Focused on Tomorrow

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Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

During these last four weeks, several people I know have noted, “This Lent is like one long Holy Saturday.”

In some ways, yes. It’s like we’re in suspended time. My teenager is having trouble keeping track of what day it is. I am, too. There’s not much to distinguish one day from another.

As of today, it’s been exactly four weeks since I’ve received the Eucharist. We attend the livestreamed Mass at our parish and are grateful to have that opportunity, but for me it only serves to increase my hunger for the sacraments.

Normally on Holy Saturday, we’re all focused on tomorrow. On any other Holy Saturday, I’d be putting together Easter treats for my kids (and for the one who lives two time zones away, I’d already have mailed something). I’d be ironing dress shirts and making sure I had every last ingredient I needed for a festive dinner with a special dessert (and maybe even appetizers if I was feeling extra ambitious). I’d be reviewing three or four responsorial psalms in advance of the Easter Vigil and double-checking my music binder to make sure everything for tonight and tomorrow was inside and in the right place.

This year, if I’m able to get potatoes, I’m thinking our festive Easter dinner (and all-day Easter project after online Mass) will be homemade pierogi.

This year, the tomorrow we’re focused on is the day we will be released from our own socially isolated “tombs” — the day we can once again leave our homes, visit with family and friends, be present at Mass.

For Jesus, that day was Easter. For us, it will be later.

But for today, let’s focus on Jesus’ tomorrow. Let’s focus on the Resurrection and the hope it signifies.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: March 2020 Binge Reads

Open Book logo -f
The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently.

Here we are in the first weeks of pandemic social distancing, which means it’s a great time to binge read ALL THE BOOKS. Because distraction is sorely needed. When you can’t leave the house except for groceries, you can still escape into a novel.

Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:

Fiction

optimists guideThe Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go by Amy E. Reichert. A really enjoyable story about a young widow who’s struggling with her own grief and her middle-school daughter’s, when her very demanding, social-climbing mom suffers a stroke. In caring for her mom, Gina discovers a 40-year-old family secret that explains a lot — and demands even more explanation. Terrific read (and great advice on making terrific grilled cheese!). (Netgalley review)

 

what you wish forWhat You Wish For by Katherine Center. Galveston, TX school librarian Samantha’s new boss is the guy she had a crush on 4 years ago – but now he’s very different. No longer happy-go-lucky, Duncan is only concerned with school safety and seems bent on ridding the school of everything that brought joy to students and staff. A terrific romance and story of the varying effects of trauma on people of all ages. Great read. (Netgalley review; releases July 2020)

finding hopeFinding Hope by Shannon Symonds. When her mother disappears from their trailer, leaving teenager Hope behind with an abusive stepdad, Hope runs away and hides behind a cafe, ultimately making herself indispensable to the inexperienced grandmother who’s working as barista. The barista’s daughter, a social worker, risks her job to help Hope, while other homeless teens in the area get caught up in a sex-trafficking nightmare. Appropriate for older teens and adults.

admissionAdmission by Julie Buxbaum is probably not the book for you if your teenager is in the thick of college application process. Based on the college-admissions scandals of 2019, this novel follows the implosion of one family after a mom who can’t bear to see her daughter attend a non-top-tier school uses an admissions consultant who cheats on the SAT and falsifies an application to get the student into her dream school. There’s a lot of back-and-forth in time, as the author explores who knew what and when. All told from the perspective of the high-school student whose senior year – and family – were wrecked by these actions, this is a well-done take on a real-life news story. (Netgalley review; available May 2020)

BINGE THE SERIES! I read the last three of Amy Matayo’s 4-book Love in Chaos series (I read the first installment back in the summer when it was originally released.) Read them in order for the best experience! These are all disaster suspense, which is kind of a good thing when you need to be reminded that there are people who have it worse than you do.

the waves

aftermath

last shot

reunion

The Waves: Dillon and Liam, both forced to go on a cruise with Dillon’s family, wind up stranded on a tiny deserted island after Dillon tries to escape her family and goes on an impromptu excursion. The two must find ways to survive as they wait and hope for rescue. Good suspense; a clean and sweet romance.

The Aftermath. Riley’s bakery (and some customers) are destroyed in a tornado, and while she tries to hold everything together, a small child wanders in, followed by Chad, who she immediately pushes away while she tries to fix everything on her own. My favorite of the series!

The Last Shot. The intense story of a shooting at a concert and its effects on the country-music star and the security guard who protected him during and after the incident. More than half of the book covers the several hours when singer Teddy and guard Jane hide away from the shooter.

The Reunion. Dillon’s mother is mother-zilla-of-the-bride, but the real wedding disaster happens when a freak snowstorm cripples the area, leaving her possibly without wedding cake and definitely without a venue. Brings together all the principal characters from the previous three books in a fun conclusion to the series.

 

Nonfiction

I was getting started on a very good new book, but I’m having trouble focusing on nonfiction at this point. This isn’t even a review copy — it’s a spiritual read I actually chose for myself, and it was supposed to be my Lenten inspiration. It’s not a long book, so maybe I’ll pick it back up for Holy Week.

let goLet Go: Seven Stumbling Blocks to Christian Discipleship by Casey Cole, OFM. From the blurb: Franciscan Casey Cole challenges us to let go of something more difficult than material wealth: expectations, anxiety, comfort, wounds, enemies, power—and our very selves. Speaking from both personal and pastoral experience, he outlines the stumbling blocks that turn us away from following Jesus as true disciples.

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!

open book logo


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Urbi et Orbi: An Extraordinary Blessing

I’ve never watched a papal blessing or weekly Angelus before, but the extraordinary blessing Pope Francis offered Friday was not one I wanted to miss.

After all, I’m missing Mass. I’m missing Adoration. The suspension of all public activity is a bitter consequence of the novel coronavirus — and I pray that it minimizes the spread of the disease.

I have seen pictures of past papal events, though. There is always a crowd, even on a rainy day.

On Friday, there was no crowd in St. Peter’s Square. There was a pope. There was a priest. There was a crucifix.

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Screen shot of Urbi et Orbi blessing, March 27, 2020.

The square was so empty, with only raindrops filling the space where people would gather to pray.

The Gospel told of another storm: a storm through which Jesus was sleeping until his distressed disciples woke him up and begged him to help them. And the wind and the sea obeyed (Mark 4:35-41).

As we struggle through the storm of fear, anger, isolation, uncertainty, and loss, we were reminded Friday that we do not struggle alone.

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Screen shot of Urbi et Orbi blessing, March 27, 2020.

More eloquent than the Pope’s words: the silent moments of prayer.

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Screen shot of Urbi et Orbi blessing, March 27, 2020.

The moments of reverence.

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Screen shot of Urbi et Orbi blessing, March 27, 2020.

The Adoration Chapel at my church is temporarily closed. Being present — thanks to an internet connection — at Adoration and Benediction with the Pope was a reminder that I shouldn’t take my ability to attend Mass and Adoration for granted.

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Screen shot of Urbi et Orbi blessing, March 27, 2020.

It is a gift to the faithful to be invited to a moment of private prayer made public.

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Screen shot of Urbi et Orbi blessing, March 27, 2020.

It is a gift to know that our Pope, our bishops, our priests, pray for us and with us. That, too, is something we take for granted.

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Screen shot of Urbi et Orbi blessing, March 27, 2020.

The scene of Pope Francis holding the monstrance and offering the triple blessing over an empty square was an unforgettable moment.

His words that day were a comfort (and you should read them all) but his actions were even more so.

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Screen shot of Urbi et Orbi blessing, March 27, 2020.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we flounder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies. (from Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi message, March 27, 2020)

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Screen shot of Urbi et Orbi blessing, March 27, 2020.

Read more about the miraculous crucifix venerated by Pope Francis during that moment.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Pray the Sunday Rosary on Facebook Live

I’m pleased to let my colleagues at Family Theater Productions, which along with CatholicMom.com is part of Holy Cross Family Ministries, take over to share this important announcement about a prayer effort beginning this weekend.

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Courtesy of Family Theater Productions

Family Theater Productions offers a weekly Sunday Rosary, starting this Sunday, March 22, streaming live on Facebook to the world.

The host is our National Director, Father David Guffey, C.S.C., executive producer of FTP’s documentary about our founder, called PRAY: The Story of Patrick Peyton (coming Fall 2020).

Log into the Family Theater Productions Facebook page — Facebook.com/FamilyTheaterHCFM — at 7 PM ET/4 PM PT this Sunday and every Sunday for the foreseeable future to share the Rosary with people around the country and the world.

If you don’t have a physical Rosary, you can count the decades on your 10 fingers or use one of many available Rosary apps (view a list of available Rosary apps). Our sister organization, Family Rosary, also has a Rosary app.

Get a primer on saying the Rosary from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

As the founder of Family Theater Productions, Father Patrick Peyton, said: “The Family That Prays Together Stays Together.”

So, come Sunday to Facebook.com/FamilyTheaterHCFM with family, friends and followers, and send the Rosary around the world, for, as Father Peyton said, “A World at Prayer Is a World at Peace.”

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Family Theater Productions creates family and faith-based media that inspires, entertains and informs. Founded in 1947 by Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., and headquartered on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California, Family Theater Productions is an award-winning producer of family media, including television, radio and short format video for all the major social platforms. Learn more at FamilyTheater.org.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on our websiteFacebookTwitter and YouTube.

Humility, Gentleness, and Patience

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I wake up in the morning and as I begin each day, I start thinking about how I’m going to spend my time. What work needs to be done? How much laundry will I need to wash and fold? What will I cook for dinner?

This morning I woke up and those same thoughts started spinning through my head. And then they were interrupted by a new question:

How will I bless my family today?

Living and working in close quarters, limiting or eliminating trips outside the house, dealing with the uncertainty of it all: we are going to need to bless our families by living out Ephesians 4:1-2 to the best of our ability.

We need to ask God to give us the grace to do this.

We are all going to need every bit of humility, gentleness, and patience that we can muster.

We are going to need to remember that this is hard on everyone. (I’m fully aware that I’m just as hard to live with, if not more so, as the one in the household I’m most exasperated with at any given moment.)

While we are deprived of some freedom right now, we are not, and can never be, deprived of God’s grace. He will shower it upon us. Let’s lean on that grace and bless our families with humility, gentleness, patience, and love.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz