On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

On My Bookshelf: Ashes, Visible and Invisible

The Catholic Teen Books authors, many of whom I have the pleasure to call my friends, have put together their fourth short-story collection. Ashes: Visible and Invisible releases January 31, 2023 on the feast of St. John Bosco, the patron saint of teenagers.

 

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Ashes contains ten short stories by Theresa Linden, Marie Keiser, Cynthia Toney, Ellen Gable, Antony Kolenc, Amanda Lauer, Carolyn Astfalk, Leslea Wahl, T.M. Gaouette, and Corinna Turner. All of them have some connection to Lent, and each story stands on its own. You can enjoy these stories in any order.

Ashes, like all the CTB story collections, is packed with well-written stories that are faithfully Catholic. The stories feature teenagers growing in faith and virtue—teenagers facing true-to-life situations, teenagers dealing with moral dilemmas, teenagers seeking to know the right thing to do. Settings for the stories vary from the time of Jesus to the Middle Ages to modern times and a dystopian future. There’s something for every reader, and you might even enjoy exploring a new-to-you genre.

One of my favorite things about the CTB story collections is that many of the stories are connected to these authors’ larger-format work. The characters you meet in these collections might be minor characters from a novel, or a story might include a bonus scene that picks up where a novel leaves off. These stories are a great way to get to know a particular author’s work, and after each story you’ll find a note from the author explaining where you can read more about that character.

 

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Take a peek into the stories you’ll read in Ashes:

  • When Liz’s faith journey hits a roadblock, will an unexpected detour and chance encounter set her back on track?
  • A teen’s future was all set—before his tragic loss. But his friend’s secret past just might save it.
  • Justin’s religion is outlawed. When an unbeliever asks him about the meaning of life, what can he say?
  • Could God be asking Paul to sacrifice a piece of himself for Lent—literally?
  • A modern American teen discovers what faith, life and love are like in seventeenth-century Scotland.
  • Teenager Lexie Dugan struggles to understand the sacrifice of Lent when she’s asked to help take care of her siblings while her pregnant mother is on bed rest.
  • Asher’s desire to prepare for the Messiah intensifies after he’s robbed by bandits but would fighting alongside the Zealots be the best way?
  • When a risky Ash Wednesday mission to sterilize T. rex eggs goes wrong, fasting is the least of Joshua, Darryl, and Harry’s worries.
  • A medieval girl stranded on a forsaken path confronts threats from without and turmoil from within.
  • Struggling with loss, hunger, and temptation, Ethan finds himself walking in the steps of Jesus.

Visit CatholicTeenBooks.com to learn more about the authors behind this story collection and the mission of Catholic Teen Books.

 

 

Catholic Teen Books is offering a fun prize pack in conjunction with this giveaway! Enter today to win a copy of Ashes, Lenten socks, a handmade rosary, devotional for teens, and more! This giveaway ends on release day, January 31.

 

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Copyright 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images: courtesy of CatholicTeenBooks.com

A copy of this book was provided to me for the purposes of this article.

This article contains Amazon affiliate links, which provide a small compensation to the author of this piece when purchases are made through the links, at no cost to you. Thank you for your support. 

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

On My Bookshelf: Summer at West Castle

Theresa Linden deftly bridges the gap between her West Brothers series for young adults and the new-adult Anyone But Him with this novel that details the summer Caitlyn spends working in the Wests’ castle, while Jarrett, her friend Roland’s older brother who had yet to redeem his reputation as a ladies’ man, ponders God’s plan for his life. Caitlyn had looked forward to spending the summer as a kind of working retreat, but Jarrett’s presence challenges and upsets her.

Summer at West Castle is a fascinating story of two young people seeking to figure out God’s will in their lives.

 

 

Summary:

College student Caitlyn Summer arrives at the Wests’ castle-like house to fill in for their live-in maid. After a recent decision blows her vision of the future, this ideal job and the peaceful surroundings are just what she needs to seek God’s will for her life. That is, until Jarret West, not wanting a repeat of past mistakes, backs out of a summer-long field study overseas and returns home. The two have never gotten along, and unforgettable baggage from the past makes it hard even to be cordial. While Jarret’s faults convince Caitlyn he hasn’t changed, she forces herself to offer kindness. Her act of mercy puts them on an unexpected path where Caitlyn is challenged to look beneath the surface and Jarret struggles to trust that God wills good for him. (Note: to avoid spoilers, read this story only after reading Anyone but Him.)

 

Looking back on the West Brothers series as a whole, seeking and following God’s will is the overarching theme of all the books. There are definitely moments where Theology of the Body takes center stage, particularly in Book 2: Life-Changing Love, but discernment is top of mind for the teens in these stories, as it is for every teen: What will I do with my life? Where will I go to college—or will I? Am I in love, and is this person the one I will spend my life with?

I’ve enjoyed watching Caitlyn, Roland, Jarrett, Peter, Keefe, and the other characters in the West Brothers series grow as the stories progress, and I’ll admit I’ll be sad when Theresa announces that the series is complete.

 

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Copyright 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Amazon affiliate links are included; your purchase through these links supports the author.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the author for the purposes of this review. The opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

An Open Book: Self-Improvement Edition

#OpenBook: (Month, Year) Reads

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Since it’s January, “new year new you” and all of that, I thought I’d focus on some self-improvement books that have come my way recently.

I read these differently than I read fiction, dipping into and out of them and flipping around, rather than diving in (as I do with a novel) and not coming up for air until I’ve finished.

A different kind of planner

nullI was offered a review copy of The Saintmaker Catholic Life Planner, and I’m always willing to try out a new planner. This is different from any planner I’ve used before. First of all, it’s a quarterly book (and it’s as big as a full-year week-at-a-time planner already). It has daily, weekly, and monthly planning sections as well as goal-setting sections, a generous notebook section (that’s my “bullet journal” for various lists, monthly meal planning, things like that. There are three ribbons to help save my place in the different sections of the planner as well as three virtue tracker bookmarks, one for each month the planner covers.

There’s a lot in here, as you can see from this photo of the 2-page daily spread. I have not used all of this in the course of a day, but as the week has gone on, I’ve tried these various sections—appointments, to-do list, notes are my big three, and there are also gratitudes, daily cross, devotions, meditation journal, and examination of conscience. Slowly I’m figuring out what works for me. Even with all the structure this planner has, there’s room for flexibility and customization, which I appreciate!

Bonus features include weekly examination of conscience worksheets, discernment journal, prayer intention list, Catholic themes for day, week, and month, and novena starter guide. I’ll be sharing more about The Saintmaker planner on my social media as the quarter goes on.

You can save 10% on The Saintmaker planner with affiliate code FRANCISCANMOM.

 

Habits of Freedom

nullI am not very familiar with Ignatian spirituality, but I have heard it said (more than once) that the saint was very practical-minded, and I am all about that! Habits of Freedom: 5 Ignatian Tools for Clearing Your Mind and Resting Daily with the Lord by Christopher S. Collins, SJ (Ave Maria Press) is an excellent book for a new beginning.

Discerning how to proceed with life—not just with big decisions, but with more immediate habits of daily living—is crucial if we want to stay on track. To be happy. To be free. To be free enough to love and to live fully. (ix)

Each chapter ends with Exercises to Cultivate Habits of Freedom. These are great journal prompts. And at the back of the book, there’s a small-group discussion guide that makes me wish I were part of a small group reading this book.

My friend Deanna Bartalini has been dedicating episodes of her Not Lukewarm Podcast to a chapter-by-chapter discussion of this book, and I’ve enjoyed hearing a second perspective on what I’d already read on my own. I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

 

Ignatius on Forgiveness

nullIt’s pretty curious that two Ignatian books have landed in front of me at the same time, but sometimes that’s how things happen, and that often means God’s trying to tell me something. The Ignatian Guide to Forgiveness: 10 Steps to Healing by Marina Berzins McCoy (Loyola Press) is an excellent guide to letting go of the paint that keeps us from moving forward with forgiveness, and with our lives.

The author walks you through stories from Scripture, Ignatian teaching, and real-life stories in each chapter, concluding the chapters with prayers and (often) practical ways to apply the principles described in each chapter.

I’m still reading this one, bit by bit in the Adoration chapel. This is definitely a book that lends itself to this approach.

 

Too Busy? Read this one!

nullI moved The Busy Person’s Guide to an Extraordinary Life by Deacon Greg Kandra (The Word Among Us Press) to the top of my “to be read” pile when I realized I’d purchased it more than a year ago and never gotten around to reading it. There’s no excuse! I’ve been a longtime fan of Deacon Greg’s work because his writing is clear, precise, simple, and accessible. There’s nothing complicated here; Deacon Greg is a terrific writer and inspiring storyteller.

Chapters are brief and can be read in any order. They include a meditation, which sometimes comes with an anecdote or three; “Consider This” with long quotes to ponder; “Try This” with a challenge; and “Pray This.”

 

This Bible Is Much More than a Pretty Face

nullThe brand-new Living the Word Catholic Women’s Bible from Ave Maria Press is undoubtedly beautiful, inside and out. I don’t know who did the book design for this, but the design team outdid themselves on this one.

I think it’s good to have a beautiful Bible. First of all, beauty invites you to look inside, and the first step to reading the Bible is opening the Bible. There are lovely touches throughout, from colorful headings to invitations to further reflection to the “Women of the Word” and “Living in the Light of Faith” and several other series of reflective essays sprinkled throughout the book. These essays, along with the boxes labeled “Take It to Heart” and the ruled journaling space on nearly ever page, offer opportunities to personalize this Bible by frequent reading, reflection, prayer, and writing. If you want to read the Bible more this year, this is the Bible for you. (Review copy received from publisher)

 

Visit the January #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

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.

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New Season, New Devotionals

‘Tis the season to think about a new devotional. Whether you prefer a daily or weekly format, you’ll find something to love about these five new prayer resources. The first three are weekly devotionals; the final pair offer daily reflections.

One Sunday at a Time by Mark Hart

I’ve had this book for weeks and have been impatiently waiting to really begin reading it—because it’s designed to help prepare for Sunday Mass! One Sunday at a Time: Preparing Your Heart for Weekly Mass by Mark Hart is a companion to the Cycle A readings that begin in Advent (November 27 this year), from Ave Maria Press. This is a companion to Cycle A (2023, 2026) so I’m hoping we can expect similar volumes for Cycles B and C.

You’ll want to have the readings available when you use this book (or a Bible where you can look them up). After an opening prayer, you’ll get a look at the message in these readings—and some behind-the-scenes info, always fascinating to me—and then there are some journal questions and a challenge for the week. You can even use the journal questions as conversation starters! This book will help you dig deeper into the meaning of each Sunday’s Mass readings and apply them to your life.

As a musician in my parish, I admit that I need to be focused on the next cue, to be ready to start hymns and acclamations at just the right moment. This means I’m not paying attention to what I’d really like to pay attention to. I look forward to using this book this year, outside of Mass, to help fill in what I’ve missed.

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Loving God, Loving Others from Blessed Is She

Of the five devotionals listed here, this one wins the prize for Most Likely To Be Given as a Gift. Loving God, Loving Others: 52 Devotions to Create Connections That Last is a beautiful book that would make a lovely gift for a friend, mother, or sister. This multi-author volume is set up in a fascinating way: each of the six authors has written a particular section of the book, each exploring the different types of relationships we experience throughout our lives and sharing from her heart about her own path of growth within that particular type of relationship.

Authors Beth Davis, Megan Hjelmstad, Nell O’Leary, Bonnie Engstrom, Sarah Erickson, and Emily Stimpson Chapman offer three-page-per-week meditations, followed by a brief recommended Gospel reading and two questions for prayer and journaling. A brief discussion opens each section, and reflections are interspersed with simply illustrated pull quotes. The book is printed on lush, thick paper and includes illustrated end papers, a white ribbon bookmark, and a dedication page.

Loving God, Loving Others is not tied to the liturgical or calendar year, so you (or your friend) can begin praying with this book at any time.

 

Reflections on the Sunday Gospel by Pope Francis

Reflections on the Sunday Gospel: How to More Fully Live Out Your Relationship with God by Pope Francis (Image Books) is a compilation of homilies or talks given by the Pope at the Angelus prayers over the years and readings from the Church Fathers. Each weekly entry begins with an excerpt from that Sunday’s Gospel, but not the full Gospel, so you’ll want to have a Bible or missal nearby.

The homilies are brief, running about 3 pages each, with an additional page or so for the reading from the Church Fathers. The Introduction by Pope Francis is excellent, accessible catechesis about paying attention at Mass, teaching our children, and “encountering the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord”—and what the homily is there for in the first place.

Reflections on the Sunday Gospel is for the Cycle A readings only, though I had to go hunting to verify that information. The back of the book provides dates for each Sunday in the next 3 incidences of Cycle A (2023, 2026, 2029) and a table of sources for both the Pope’s and the Church Fathers’ selections.

 

What Matters Most and Why by Jim Manney

For anyone interested in Ignatian spirituality, Jim Manney’s What Matters Most and Why: Living the Spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola offers 365 daily reflections inspired by Ignatian wisdom. Each daily entry begins with a quote, mostly from Jesuits throughout history but from other sources as well, including Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, the wisdom of Alcoholics Anonymous, and occasionally Scripture. Following that is a brief two-paragraph reflection on this quote.

Jesuit spirituality ultimately invites us to a way of living and leading characterized by heroism, self-awareness, love, and ingenuity. (Chris Lowrey in the Foreword)

The entries in What Matters Most and Why follow monthly themes, including Awareness, God, Love, Freedom, Work, Desire, Humility, Compassion and Trust, Choosing Well, Relationships, Practical Truths, and Becoming the Person You Are Meant to Be. This daily devotional is a good way to dip your toe into this powerful spiritual way of life.

 

 

A Year in the Word by Meg Hunter-Kilmer

If your goal is to read the Bible in a year but podcasts aren’t your thing, Meg Hunter-Kilmer has your answer with A Year in the Word Catholic Bible Journal from Our Sunday Visitor. You’ll need your Bible handy as you use this journal. A one-year reading plan is the first thing you’ll find as you open this book, with a checkbox next to each day’s reading, so if you miss a day (or more than a day) it’s easy to pick right up where you left off.

You can start using A Year in the Word whenever you want, as the reading plan is not tied to the liturgical or calendar year. In the Introduction, the author explains that her reading plan (which includes a psalm or part of one, a section from the Gospels, and chapters from either the Old or New Testament each day) is not a chronological approach but one that mixes the “harder books” with easier ones (her words) to keep you moving along and motivated to do so. By using this reading plan, you’ll actually work through each of the four Gospels twice.

This hardbound journal, with its sage-green cover, thick cream-colored pages, and simple design, will appeal to men and women alike. Wide lined spaces at the bottom of each brief daily reflection invite you to record your thoughts, and a timeline at the end traces the writing of the books of the Bible and the major events in salvation history.

 

 

 

 

 


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Images: Canva

New Advent Resources for All Ages

‘Tis the season when you can find books and booklets designed for Advent devotion and meditation. If you haven’t done so yet, check a couple of items off that to-do list: purchase your Advent candles and decide on an Advent prayer practice for yourself or your family. Try one of these resources:

For the Whole Family

5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath by Lisa M. Hendey. This booklet is filled with Scripture-based, simple prayers for the Advent season, plus questions to ponder for each day as you prepare to welcome the newborn Christ. These Advent prayers are appropriate for individuals as well as families, classrooms, and small faith sharing groups. Available in paperback or Kindle format. Read my full review. (Ave Maria Press)

 

nullThe Adverbs of Advent: Daily Devotions for Children and their Families by David Mead. This devotional covers the story of salvation history, from Creation through the story of the Adoration of the Magi, with hints at what is to come for the Child born in the manger. Each day, one adverb is chosen as the focal point. A brief Scripture passage, short meditation, and prayer comprise the daily entries. Best for families with children in primary grades. (Bayard Faith Resources)

 

nullLight Shines in the Darkness: Family Devotions for Advent by Karla Manternach. Some of the activities in this booklet require a printable coloring sheet. There’s a QR code inside the front cover to download and print the page. Family members can take turns coloring the sheet, or each person can use his or her own. Along with daily Scripture verses and a brief reflection and one-line prayer, this booklet offers a call to action based on each day’s reflection. Best for families with children in elementary and middle school. (Bayard Faith Resources)

 

 

 

For the Kids

nullCome! Lord Jesus: A Coloring Book of Advent Devotions, illustrated by Brian King. Independent readers will enjoy this coloring book with two daily entries on one side of a spread and a picture to color on the other. Each entry includes a Scripture verse, short meditation, and prayer. Appropriate for children ages 5 and up. (Bayard Faith Resources)

 

 

 

For Teens and Young Adults

nullIt’s About Time! Daily Thoughts for Our Advent Wait is a devotional focused, very gently, on the virtue of patient waiting. It’s not a heavy read, and the writing is in a very informal tone. Bible verses are referenced but not included in the text, so readers will need to bring their own. (Bayard Faith Resources)

 

 

 

 

 

For Adults

nullMessages of Light for Advent and Christmas 2022: 3-Minute Devotions by Michael White and Tom Corcoran is an uncomplicated daily devotional in a conveniently-sized format. Monday through Friday, entries begin with Scripture passages and end with a call to action, and weekend devotions are structured differently. Saturday’s reflections are the Responsorial Psalm from daily Mass, and Sunday offers a devotion and call to action but no Scripture. Available in paperback or Kindle format. (Ave Maria Press)

 

nullWelcoming the Christ Child with Padre Pio: Daily Reflections for Advent by Susan De Bartoli offers longer reflections for those able to devote more time to daily spiritual reading during this season. Because this book is undated and can be used in any year, there may be more reflections than you need—but in 2022, with Christmas on a Sunday, you’ll need them all! Franciscan spirituality is incarnational, so this book’s focus on Padre Pio’s love of Advent and “hope that he would one day be with Jesus and Mary in Paradise” (1) fits right in with that. Bonus content includes a brief outline of important events in Padre Pio’s life. Available in paperback or Kindle format. (Ave Maria Press)

 

nullMy Daily Visitor: Advent 2022 by Fr. Patrick Mary Briscoe, OP, focuses on the hope of the season. Each single-page daily entry in this small booklet begins with a Scripture citation (bring your own Bible!), then includes a brief reflection, prayer, and call to action. At the beginning of each week of the season, a longer reflection sets the tone for the week ahead. This booklet offers daily entries through January 9, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (the last day of the Christmas season). Daily video messages based on the reflections in this booklet are available free at MyDailyVisitor.com, and a free newsletter is also available. (Our Sunday Visitor)

 

Behold: A Guided Advent Journal for Prayer and Meditation by Sr. Miriam James Heidland, SOLT continues Sr. Miriam James’ ongoing Lent-and-Advent series of journals. As are the others in the series, this is a beautiful book, with weekly art by Josiah Henley and plenty of room for personal journaling. This undated book can be used in any year. The themed Advent journal focuses on the journey of the Holy Family: Mary as healer, Joseph as protector, the Child Jesus, and the Holy Family. Each day’s entries include a Scripture quote, one-page meditation, two journaling pages (with a writing prompt for each day) and closing prayer. Visit AveMariaPress.com/Behold each Sunday in Advent for free companion videos. Available in paperback or Kindle format, but I don’t recommend the ebook format as this is a journal, meant to be written in. (Ave Maria Press)

 

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Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image: Stencil
Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!
Books listed above were received from the publishers for uncompensated review.

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

An Open Book: October 2022

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. It’s been quite a while since I’ve done these! I always enjoy recapping the books I’ve read … but sometimes things get away from me. So here’s a taste of what I read this summer. Mostly, this is a Kindle recap, because if I got a library book that I’ve since read and returned, all bets are off.

Recently I reread In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this book. The Kindle version I purchased had a fascinating introduction that I’d never read before and isn’t included in my print edition. Rumer Godden is an amazing storyteller and this is one of her best; it’s so easy to lose yourself in the story of a woman with a late vocation, entering a Benedictine monastery in rural England in the early 1950s. (And while Philippa is clearly the main character, another principal in the story emerges as the heroine for me: Abbess Catherine, who famously prayed, “I can’t, so You must.” Best prayer in a novel, hands down.) I’d give it 10 stars out of 5.

 

nullI grabbed a Netgalley offer for a cookbook and I’m glad I did. Tastes Better from Scratch: Easy Recipes for Everyday Life by Lauren Allen introduced me to a new recipe source. I liked that the book was packed with pictures, because I like to see what I’m going to be cooking. The author also included hints for modifying the recipes to allow for different cooking methods (make-ahead, make from frozen) and also modifying for different tastes. These recipes were easy to follow and left the door wide open to personalization. This is a good family-style cookbook. 4 stars.

 

Victoria Everleigh’s The Hope We Vow completes her Vows for Life series. Sadie Rosati, sister to the main character in The Love We Vow, has returned to the faith and is trying to figure out what God wants for her life after her boyfriend doesn’t react well to learning the secret that’s burdened her since her teenage years. Sadie’s explorations lead her not only to new relationships but to the possibility of consecrated life; exploring that possibility opens a door for her to use her musical gifts in a new and unexpected way. A satisfying end to the series. 4 stars.

 

The debut novel Grieving Daughter’s Club by Andrea Bear brings together a cast of characters who might not ordinarily meet (much less become friends) but do so because of a book discussion group at their church. Many of them share the bond of having lost a parent. This is a wonderful story of developing friendships, and of women who literally come to the point of being willing to lay down their lives for each other. By the end of the book, you’ll feel as if these characters are your friends too. Worth a reread! 5 stars.

 

I don’t remember how I heard about Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, but this middle-grade historical novel set in Depression-era Kansas was a delightful read, despite the hardships 12-year-old Abilene has endured in her lifetime. Sent to Manifest on her own by her father, Abilene sets out to find out what really happened during her father’s childhood and unlock the long-buried secrets of the town. The side characters are just as winning as Abilene. 5 stars.

 

The dads take over the PTA in Schooled by Ted Fox, a hilarious novel about rival stay-at-home dads running a cutthroat campaign for the presidency of the PTA in the socially competitive school their young children attend. If you thought PTA moms were bad, they’ve got nothing on Jack and his childhood nemesis Chad, who seems willing to stop at nothing to make sure he wins this election. Plenty of politically-correct everything, but the story is worth getting past all that. 4 stars.

 

And in a completely different vein, The Girl They Left Behind by Roxane Veletzos is a deeply tragic World War II story, which begins in Bucharest when a three-year-old is found on a doorstep, abandoned by her Jewish parents who hope someone will care for the child while they hide in a neighbor’s attic. They think it will be just for a little while, but things don’t work out the way they had hoped. The story follows Natalia into adulthood and is an eye-opening look at life behind the Iron Curtain. Compelling, but be sure to have a light read afterward as a palate cleanser. 4 stars.

 

One of the best books I read this summer was Amy Matayo’s They Called Her Dirty Sally. Journalist Finn Hardwick arrives in a small Arkansas town reluctantly, assigned to cover the 30th anniversary of a tragic hospital fire that killed several newborns and young mothers. He encounters unexpected resistance from the locals who are unwillling to give up the town’s long-held secrets, and discovered that the hospital fire seems to have a tie to his own life as well as to the reclusive, mysterious woman known as “Dirty Sally,” who has not spoken a word to anyone since the day of the fire. 5 stars.

 

In Perfectly Human, Joseph Dutkowsky, M.D. describes his journey from engineering student to pre-med and on to a series of academic and professional opportunities that led him to dedicate his medical career to caring and advocating for persons (mostly children) with disabilities. It’s evident from the very first page that Dr. Dutkowsky loves his work, and that his patients have been as much a gift to him as he has been to them. Dr. Dutkowsky looks into the eyes of his patients and sees the eyes of Jesus looking back at him. One of the best parts of this book is the love story of the doctor and his wife. If you’re a teacher or the parent of a child with special needs, don’t miss this one. (Review copy received from the author)

 

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!

 


Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

Where indicated, books are review copies provided by the author, publisher, or Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

Book Review: The Little Way of Living with Less.

Letting go is hard. And maybe that’s the reason for the subtitle of Laraine Bennett’s new book, The Little Way of Living with Less: Learning to Let Go with the Little Flower. In this new release from Sophia Institute Press, Bennett shares her musings on a “less is more” manner of living, inspired by the writing of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

 

 

Arguably, the saint’s life as a cloistered Carmelite nun automatically lent itself to the kind of simplicity that mothers in the 21st century will never hope to see. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from this saint’s words and example, and apply those to our situation, examining what to keep, what to share, and what we might not even need in the first place.

I admit it: I’m very attached to my stuff. I keep a lot of things I “might need someday” but probably never will … and it definitely goes against the grain for me to donate those useful objects—but, looking back, I’ve always been more than willing to give something I was saving for that elusive “someday” to a friend or neighbor who needed that particular thing right now. My challenge, I guess, is giving up the things without seeing the faces of the ones who will be using it.

Reading this book has pushed me to re-examine my relationship with the things I keep. Do I need all of them? Do I even want all of them? Would I benefit more if I moved some things along, by having more open space in my closet and on my shelves: do I have to have everything filled to the brim all the time?

Reading this book at this time of year has been a good push to examine the clothing I keep. As the weather gets chilly, I’m putting away the summer blouses and bringing out the winter fleece. How much of each of these do I really need? When’s the last time I even wore that? Why am I hanging on to it if I’m not using it? As I sort, I’m filling a box—and when it’s full, I’ll arrange for it to be picked up for the next clothing drive, along with the big box of handmedown kitchen stuff left behind by my kids after they finished college.

My favorite chapter in The Little Way of Living with Less is chapter 7: “The Tranquility of Order.” I want that tranquility, the peace that comes from having what I need—because peace doesn’t come from hanging on to stuff I don’t.


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for my review.
Amazon links are included in this article; your purchase supports FranciscanMom.com at no cost to you.

Start Your Advent Preparations Now!

It’s September 30. Do you know where your Advent candles are?

I do, because I bought about 6 packs in bulk a couple of years ago, and we’re still working through that supply. I don’t have an attic; we keep them in a mini-closet in the basement where the Christmas decorations live (which automatically means we can’t go too crazy buying Christmas decorations, because I insist that we keep the Christmas decorations there, and only there.

So I’ve got my candles (and enough for a few more years) and now I have the brand-new Advent devotional by Lisa M. Hendey: 5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath.

 

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This booklet is filled with Scripture-based, simple prayers for the Advent season, plus questions to ponder for each day as you prepare to welcome the newborn Christ.

These Advent prayers are appropriate for individuals as well as families, classrooms, and small faith sharing groups.

If you’ve spent any time around this blog, you know I’m hardly an expert about Advent. Around here, it’s the season where table manners and fire collide. But now that all my kids have come out the other side of the teenage years, I’m figuring that maybe—just maybe—we can add in some devotion to our family Advent-wreath ritual.

It’s only 5 minutes a day. We can do it! Join me!

And it’s not too early to think about Advent, my friends. It’ll be here before you know it: Advent begins November 27 this year. And all the craft stores are already putting Halloween stuff on clearance, so if you don’t have candles yet, don’t wait. And while you’re buying your candles, go ahead and order this book, too.

5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath is available on Amazon, through Ave Maria Press, and at your local Catholic bookstore.

Ave Maria Press offers even more Advent devotional materials based on this booklet: check those resources out for free!


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photos copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.
Article contains Amazon links; your purchase through these links support FranciscanMom.com at no cost to you.
I received a free review copy of this booklet from the publisher and was not compensated for this review in any way.

On My Bookshelf: Perfectly Human by Joseph Dutkowsky, MD

Is there anything better than a warm chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven? I believe we’re handed them by God all the time and too often don’t notice or can’t figure out what to do with them. I’m a firm believer that when God hands you a chocolate chip cookie take a big bite out of it! (173)

Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky, or “Dr. D” as he signed off when he emailed to tell me he’d sent me a copy of his memoir, Perfectly Human, spent his life taking big bites of the chocolate-chip cookies God handed him, and the world is better for it.

 

In this fascinating book, Dr. D describes his journey from engineering student to pre-med and on to a series of academic and professional opportunities that led him to dedicate his medical career to caring and advocating for persons (mostly children) with disabilities. It’s evident from the very first page that Dr. D loves his work, and that his patients have been as much a gift to him as he has been to them. Dr. D looks into the eyes of his patients and sees the eyes of Jesus looking back at him.

Dr. D has not only worked hard as an orthopedic surgeon to help his patients enjoy their lives by assisting them in overcoming mobility challenges, he has led by example in looking and listening and helping to meet the needs of his patients and their families.

Through the patients, families, and community providers whom I serve, I learned the fundamental truth that you cannot take care of a child with a disability without taking care of their family and community. (82)

Throughout the book, Dr. D shares stories of encounters with patients and acknowledges that he was changed as much as the children and adults he has treated over the years. The thread that holds all these stories together is Dr. D’s deep reverence for the gift of life, no matter how imperfect that life might be in the eyes of an unfriendly world.

Particularly timely in these days of post-Roe vitriol against those who protect the vulnerable unborn is Chapter 16, “The New Eugenics.” Many of Dr. D’s patients have been individuals with Down syndrome. He observes,

Worst of all, this new eugenics is even threatening their lives. Through medical science, new tests exist and are being developed to genetically and morphologically examine a fetus in the womb. In the greatest tradition of medicine this information would be used to make early diagnoses that could lead to prenatal treatments to enhance the life of the child in the womb and after birth. In the worst tradition of medicine this technology is being used to terminate the pregnancy of an “undesirable” child. (168)

In this powerful chapter, Dr. D decries a culture that penalizes women “economically, socially, and professionally” for having children; a culture in which easy access to abortion enables men to use women; a culture which views easy access to abortion as a “solution to poverty” (169).

Dr. D told me, when he sent me this book, that it’s not a book: it’s a movement. He’s right. This book, which I called a memoir but might better describe as a call to action disguised as a memoir, is a spiritual push to see the intrinsic value of each person: born and unborn, healthy or ill, strong or weak, ambulatory or wheelchair-bound.

It’s also a love story, dedicated to his late wife, Karen, who supported him in the adventures that took him from New England to Tennessee, from New York to Peru and back again.

And it’s a testament to the faith of a man who has come to see all of life as a gift from God, packaged as a series of chocolate-chip cookies and ready to be enjoyed in a way that, in turn, glorifies the God who created it in the first place.

Perfectly Human is a book that will make you smile and cry—sometimes within the same page. I’d particularly recommend this book to young people entering the medical field, whether as doctors, nurses, or allied professionals, and to educators as well.


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Image: Stencil

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.

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

An Open Book: July 2022

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:

Fiction

Shadowed Loyalty by Roseanna M. White. Sabina, daughter of a Chicago mob boss in the days just before Al Capone’s rise to power, discovers she’d been played: the handsome young man who’d been secretly courting her is actually a government agent seeking to take down her father. But Sabina’s secret love life is unwelcome news to the young man who’d loved her since childhood—her fiancé, who puts aside his own code of ethics to get Sabina’s father out of legal trouble. A fascinating story. 5 stars.

 

For a Noble Purpose by Kelsey Gietl. Built on a premise from an episode in the Book of Tobit, the novel follows a young woman whose seven husband all died mysteriously shortly following the wedding, before the marriage could be consummated. Immediately after the death of the seventh, Sarah and the slave woman she grew up with run away to join a wagon train led by Tobias Lark and his brothers, a family of men with extraordinary gifts who seek to start a new community in the Washington Territory. An interesting look at wagon-train life from a privileged woman’s perspective. 4 stars.

 

So THAT Happened: An Accidental Romantic Comedy by Katie Bailey. Instagram posts from this author finally got me to buy this book, and it was a fun story. After a flight cancellation, Annie winds up having to share a hotel room—and a bed—with her handsome but grumpy seatmate from the plane, and she even pretends he’s her new boyfriend when she encounters her old boyfriend and his pregnant girlfriend in the airport. But she figures they’ll never see each other again … until she arrives at her new job Monday morning and discovers he’s the CEO. This clean romance would make a hilarious movie. 4 stars.

 

Meet Me in the Margins by Melissa Ferguson. Assistant-editor Savannah works at a publisher whose CEO considers romance novels too pedestrian for their lineup, but she’s secretly working on one to pitch to a competitor. After hiding her manuscript in a secret room, she returns later to discover someone’s been editing it—and making it infinitely better. This begins a back-and-forth, complete with scheduled secret-room runs so author and editor will be guaranteed never to meet. All the while, Savannah wonders who else knows about the room, and who’s working on her book. Thorougly enjoyable. 5 stars.

 

Beach Wedding on the Rocks by Maddie Evans. Noah and Elsie, known for their pranks during their high-school days and former high-school sweethearts, team up against the guy who was the cause of their breakup 8 years ago. During the week before the wedding, they stage elaborate schemes to dish out some cold revenge, and find themselves battling old feelings while they’re thrown together in hilarious situations. As always, this author’s greatest strength is her characters’ banter. 4 stars.

 

Not Until Someday by Valerie M. Bodden. Grace has a plan to renovate the house she just inherited from her grandfather into a bed-and-breakfast. She also has a life plan, right down to all the qualifications and characteristics of her future husband. When former NFL great Levi shows up as the contractor for her project, she resists her attraction to him because he doesn’t check the boxes on her list. This Christian romance was heavy on the Christian, sometimes to the point of getting in the way of the story. 3 stars.

 

Last Summer Boys by Bill Rivers. I’m not even sure how I found out about this one, but what a gem! In this novel set in 1968 rural/Appalachian Pennsylvania, a young teen seeks an opportunity to save his oldest brother from being drafted. He and a cousin, sent to spend the summer outside riot-plagued Chicago, plan an expedition to find a fighter jet that crashed in the area several years ago. Plenty of local color and flavor of the time, when developers sought to take over formerly rural areas and kids could roam for hours in the woods and hills. 5 stars.

 

Blackberry Beach and Sea Glass Cottage by Irene Hannon. While I love the mainstay characters of the Hope Harbor series, I’m starting to feel as if it’s jumped the shark. Nevertheless, these are easy, sweet reads—just right for relaxing during the summer, and solid 4-star tales. I heard there’s another one releasing this fall, and yes—I’ll be looking for it. Because sometimes, this kind of book is exactly what you need.

YA/Children’s

Love and Other Great Expectations by Becky Dean. A medical condition after an injury ends Britt’s soccer career and dreams of going to college. Offered an opportunity to spend a week in England for a contest that could net her the money she needs to replace her lost athletic scholarship, she travels around the country on a competitive scavenger hunt culminating in a Canterbury-Tale themed final project—and meets a young British man on a life quest of his own. This clean YA romance was a terrific read. 5 stars. (Netgalley)

 

Nonfiction

Encountering Signs of Faith: My Unexpected Journey with Sacramentals, the Saints, and the Abundant Grace of God by Allison Gingras. Interspersed with stories of Allison’s own spiritual journey as she and her husband adopted a profoundly deaf young child from China is “sneaky evangelism” about grace and the ways it’s shown to us—and the ways we hold our faith in our hearts. Allison had to make the faith visible and tangible to her daughter, but the Church made that easy for her through its traditions of sacred art and sacramentals. This book contains not only a fascinating testimony but also an invitation to make your faith personal, by incorporating meaningful devotions, developing relationships with saints, and learning to see God’s grace and providence in every aspect of your life. I want to read it again—this time with my journal near at hand. 5 stars. (Netgalley; available September 30 but you can preorder it now.)

 

Beginning Well: 7 Spiritual Practices for the First Year of Almost Anything by Joel Stepanek. I can never resist a “do something for a year” book and this one is a refreshing take on that theme—and a way better idea than making recipes from the same cookbook every day for a year (yeah, I read that one, AND saw the movie; bet you did too). In this new book from Ave Maria Press, Joel Stepanek offers seven spiritual practices to get you through times of transition. It’s a small book, and the author writes in a very down-to-earth, uncomplicated, conversational style. I recommend this easy, encouraging read, no matter what kind of transition you find yourself in. 5 stars. (Netgalley)

 


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 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz