On Barb’s Bookshelf: A Short-Story Anthology for Teens from CatholicTeenBooks

A brand-new #1 new release on Amazon is a terrific introduction to the work of 7 Catholic authors! Secrets: Visible and Invisible, a short-story collection compiled by CatholicTeenBooks.com, reached #1 in the “Values and Virtues Fiction for Teens” category in its first 24 hours!

I’m very familiar with the work of many of the authors whose stories are featured here: Carolyn Astfalk, T.M. Gaouette, Theresa Linden, Cynthia T. Toney, and Leslea Wahl. Two other authors are new to me: Susie Peek and Corinna Turner — and I’ll definitely be taking a look at these authors’ full-length work after getting a taste of their writing.

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Here’s a bit about the 7 stories you’ll find in this anthology:

  • In a dystopian future, an innocent picnic turns deadly!
  • Elijah knows nothing of an elderly stranger’s secret past — until her disappearance changes everything.
  • A mysterious, ever-changing painting alarms a group of teens.
  • A cannonball took Dario’s legs … Will he lose his soul too?
  • The arrival of a mysterious girl challenges everything about Jason’s life.
  • An unlicensed driver. His dad’s truck. What could possibly go wrong?
  • An old tale of murder and forbidden love leads to a modern-day treasure hunt.

As a rule, I don’t endorse a book I haven’t read. I’m proud to endorse Secrets and I’ll state right now that I’ll definitely be reading it again. Here’s my endorsement:

This anthology of Catholic fiction for teens will introduce readers to seven diverse authors. Many of these stories, in a variety of genres but linked by a common theme, offer a peek at characters from full-length novels. Readers already acquainted with these authors will enjoy new perspectives on favorite characters. Kudos to CatholicTeenBooks.com and these seven authors for dreaming up this excellent collection.

From dystopia to historical fiction to sweet romance to mystery, there’s something for every reader to like in this collection — and it might even encourage a reader who’s locked in to a certain genre to branch out a bit.

This book is appropriate for readers in middle-school and up, and would be an excellent addition to a school or classroom library. As described by Mark Hart of Life Teen International, who provides the foreword, “Each story reveals something different about the human heart and our constant (though, often veiled) desire for truth and virtue.”

Want to win a copy for your teen?

Enter the blog tour giveaway!

Visit the other stops on the Blog Tour for more chances to win:

Blog Tour Schedule:

July 4              Steve McEvoy                        Book Reviews and More

July 5              Leslea Wahl                            Leslea Wahl

July 6              Barb Szyszkiewicz                 Franciscan Mom

July 7              Shower of Roses                     Shower of Roses

July 8              Carolyn Astfalk                      My Scribbler’s Heart

July 9              Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur  Spiritual Woman

July 9              Sarah Damm                           Sarah Damm

July 10            Corinna Turner                       Unseen Books

July 11            Christina Weigand                  Palace of Twelve Pillars

July 11            Virginia Lieto                         Virginia Lieto

July 12            Theresa Linden                       Things Visible & Invisible

July 13            T.M. Gaouette                        T.M. Gaouette

July 14            Karina Fabian                         Fabianspace

July 16            Therese Heckenkamp             Therese Heckenkemp

July 17            Ellen Gable Hrkach                Plot Line & Sinker

July 17            Barb Szyszkiewicz                 CatholicMom

July 18            Catholic Teen Books              Catholic Teen Books


Copyright 2018 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.

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#OpenBook: June 2018 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

just in timeJust in Time by Marie Bostwick. Grace’s life revolves around her quilting hobby and caring for her husband, who’s been in a coma since a hiking accident on their honeymoon. Her friends from a grief support group stand by her and push her toward new adventures even as new crises in her work and personal life threaten the fragile balance of her life. Terrific characters.

not that I could tellNot That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser. A disturbing read about a group of young moms in a neighborhood and how they react to the sudden disappearance of one of their peers, who seems to have taken off, small children in tow, with no explanation. The resulting media circus seems to point to Kristin’s estranged husband, and others in the neighborhood must deal with their own crises. I’m not entirely sure the surprise ending works. (Netgalley review)

bound by brokennessBound by Brokenness (The Healing Season’s series #2) by This story is a continuation of a series; definitely these need to be read in order. Dr. Matthias Mason is injured while treating the people in the mountain region where he lives and works; his young assistant steps out of her comfort zone to take care of things while he cannot. Meanwhile, 12-year-old Samuel is left on his own to manage a household, the vegetable garden, and his schoolwork — and he finds himself embroiled in a bootlegging scandal while trying to protect a friend. Some anachronistic dialogue got in the way of the historical-fiction experience.

way life should beThe Way Life Should Be by Christina Baker Kline. Kind of farfetched, but good escape fiction: Angela’s friend convinces her to try online dating, but it doesn’t turn out quite as she expected and it has disastrous effects on her job. When she heads to Maine to either escape or start over (even she doesn’t know which) she finds a surprising way to start over. I almost didn’t purchase this because of the reviews I read on Amazon (people were upset that this wasn’t anything like Orphan Train, but I really enjoyed it).

every time you go awayEvery Time You Go Away by Beth Harbison. This novel reminded me a lot of the movie “Ghost.” Ben, who died prematurely, leaving a wife and teen son, comes back as a ghost to their beach house, a place his wife had avoided since he died there alone 3 years before. Willa has a lot of healing and grieving to do, and a lot of repairing of her relationship with her son. Predictable, but an enjoyable read. (Netgalley review)

sister circleThe Sister Circle (Sister Circle #1) by Vonette Bright & Nancy Moser. A sweet, if farfetched, story about a recent widow whose husband left her nothing but an enormous old home filled with antiques. She opens a boardinghouse, filling the rooms with 3 women with little in common except they all need a place to stay. The book’s Christian message is strong, veering toward the didactic at times. This is the first in a series, and it’s pretty clear that there’s going to be a discovery that two characters have an unexpected connection (I’m trying to avoid spoilers); honestly, that’s the only reason I purchased the second book in the series.

least expectedLeast Expected by Autumn MacArthur. This short novel takes place over the course of a week or two at Christmastime; a middle-aged store owner with an overbearing mother falls for the quirky, artistic freelance window decorator. It wraps up a little too neatly, of course, but it was a fun read that definitely had me hoping these two characters would get together.

Nonfiction

catholic baby namesCatholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys by Katherine Morna Towne. I was honored to be asked to endorse this book! Choosing a Marian name for your baby, or helping your teen select a Confirmation name, just got easier. Kate Towne takes the guesswork out of the naming process, offering hundreds of names and nicknames that refer to Mary or are used in her honor. Complete with feast-day information, a bit of history, and plenty of variations and cross-referencing, this guide to names that honor the Blessed Mother is fascinating and full of surprises. Read my full review.

rethink happinessRethink Happiness by Paul George isn’t simply about self-help; its focus is solidly on spiritual growth. Don’t let the subtitle, “Dare to embrace God and experience true joy,” leave you thinking that this book doesn’t deal with the tough stuff or offer a true challenge. Paul George discusses depression, success, decision-making, beauty (and deceptive beauty), despair, simple living, fear, and other topics with an honest touch and just the right number of anecdotes to make his points relatable. Each chapter ends with reflection questions for prayer or journaling.

followKatie Prejean McGrady’s Follow: Your Lifelong Adventure with Jesus invites young Catholics to get to know Jesus in practical ways. But it’s not for young Catholics only! There are only four chapters, but they’re comparatively long ones, divided into sections of a few pages each. These four chapters cover four important ways to build a relationship with Jesus: prayer, Scripture, sacraments, and service. There’s a lot of information in this book: the chapter on prayer, for example, includes the Litany of Humility, a list of all the mysteries of the Rosary, and extensive coverage of various ways to pray.

psalm basicsPsalm Basics for Catholics: Seeing Salvation History in a New Way by John Bergsma is a Bible study, but Bergsma’s lighter approach makes this book perfect for summer. This book is informative and engaging without being too formal or serious. Charts and diagrams illustrate the discussion of salvation history and the distinctions among the psalms themselves. There’s much more than basic information here! The book has eleven chapters, so reading one chapter per week will take you right through the summer. I found it hard to stop reading at the end of each chapter — I was quickly wrapped up in Bergsma’s explanations about the history behind the psalms.

go bravelyEmily Wilson Hussem’s Go Bravely: Becoming the woman you were meant to be was definitely written for an audience more my daughter’s age (22) than mine (more than old enough to have a daughter who’s 22). That didn’t stop me from grabbing a pen and underlining large chunks of it. Wilson’s advice is for women of any age — the anecdotes will appeal most to older teens, college-age, and young-adult women, but the advice is definitely for us all. It would be great for a mother-daughter book club! This book is divided into twenty short chapters, each with a different piece of advice: for example, Find Your Gaggle, Honor Those Who Love You Most, Forgive and Forget, and Radiate with Light.


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

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 new logo

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys

New from Marian Press, CatholicMom.com contributor Katherine Morna Towne’s Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady is a treasury of information presented in an easy-to-use and visually beautiful format. I was honored to endorse this book:

Choosing a Marian name for your baby, or helping your teen select a Confirmation name, just got easier. Kate Towne takes the guesswork out of the naming process, offering hundreds of names and nicknames that refer to Mary or are used in her honor. Complete with feast-day information, a bit of history, and plenty of variations and cross-referencing, this guide to names that honor the Blessed Mother is fascinating and full of surprises.

catholic baby names

You may be surprised, as I was, to learn how many boys’ names honor Mary! One of my sons is named Luke (after Luke the Evangelist) and I learned quite a bit about that name’s origin.

Though Luke looks as though it would be related to the Luc- names (Lucian, Lucy), which have to do with light and can refer to Our Lady of Light, it’s actually unrelated, referring instead to a person from the southern Italian region of Lucania. Such was the meaning behind the name of St. Luke the Evangelist, and it’s he who gives this name a Marian character. The Gospel of Luke is intensely Marian, containing the accounts of the Annunciation and the Visitation; the prophecy that Our Lady’s heart would be pierced by a sword; the first half of the Hail Mary; and Our Lady’s beautiful canticle of praise, the Magnificat.

Nicknames: Lolek (suggested by one of my readers as a nickname for Luke that can also acknowledge St. John Paul, as it was his childhood nickname), Lou, Lucky, Lukey

Variants: Luca (various), Lucas (various), Luka (various)

Feast days: March 25 (Annunciation)
May 31 (Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
September 15 (Our Lady of Sorrows)
October 18 (St. Luke the Evangelist)

See also: Addolorata (g), Angustias (g), Annunziata (g), Ave (g), Dolores (g), Elizabeth (g), Gabriel, Gabriela (g), John Paul, Magnificat (g), Nunzio, Piedad (g), Pierce, Pieta (g), Simeon, Visitación (g), Tristan

There’s so much in there! For some names, you’ll find fascinating inside stories. It’s fun to just page through the book and look up the names of family members and friends to find the Marian connections behind them. Unlike many baby name books, this isn’t simply an index of names with short notes about their meanings.

Because I definitely judge a book by its cover (and its interior), I can’t help but note how the design of Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys complements the content. The cover art, done in sweet pastels, contains plenty of references to the Blessed Mother but definitely calls to mind a baby blanket. Each page of the book is embellished with designs at the top and the bottom, surrounding the page number; these aren’t distracting at all — they’re beautiful touches.

This lovely book is a pleasure to read and would make a wonderful gift for expectant parents.

Barb's Book shelf blog title


Copyright 2018 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.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Summer Reading from Ave Maria Press

New Summer Reading AVE

Leave some room in your summer relaxation plans for one of these new spiritual books from Ave Maria Press. They’re all helpful in your spiritual journey, and they’d all make excellent gifts for recent high-school or college graduates or teen Confirmandi. Lightweight enough to bring along on a vacation getaway, these four books are far from light on their spiritual message. These books will nourish your soul and bless your summer reading.

rethink happinessRethink Happiness by Paul George isn’t simply about self-help; its focus is solidly on spiritual growth. Don’t let the subtitle, “Dare to embrace God and experience true joy,” leave you thinking that this book doesn’t deal with the tough stuff or offer a true challenge. Paul George discusses depression, success, decision-making, beauty (and deceptive beauty), despair, simple living, fear, and other topics with an honest touch and just the right number of anecdotes to make his points relatable. Each chapter ends with reflection questions for prayer or journaling.

Destination happiness is a mentality that says, “When I reach a certain point in life, I will be happy.” … These achievements can be good things and can bring joy to our lives; but they don’t bring us lasting fulfillment in themselves.

When we seek happiness by reaching a destination, we set our sights on the mirage that is ahead of us and not on the reality that exists, which is God. The destination we were created for is God alone. And finding our meaning in who God made us to be is the only paradise that will satisfy our longing. (38-39)

followKatie Prejean McGrady’s Follow: Your Lifelong Adventure with Jesus invites young Catholics to get to know Jesus in practical ways. But it’s not for young Catholics only! There are only four chapters, but they’re comparatively long ones, divided into sections of a few pages each. These four chapters cover four important ways to build a relationship with Jesus: prayer, Scripture, sacraments, and service. There’s a lot of information in this book: the chapter on prayer, for example, includes the Litany of Humility, a list of all the mysteries of the Rosary, and extensive coverage of various ways to pray. McGrady also tells stories to illustrate her points, and the tales of dating her husband, evacuating before a hurricane, and meeting a homeless man while stuck in a freeway traffic jam are engaging and appropriate.

On the one hand, the steps on our journey to meeting Jesus in a personal, authentic way seem remarkably challenging. At the start of what looks like an endless, uphill climb, it may seem like we’re trying to scale Mount Everest with nothing more than a light jacket and a pair of sneakers. On the other hand, we’re reminded that there’s always a first step to climbing even the tallest mountain. On the journey of coming to know Jesus, step one is to simply communicate with him the same way you would chat with a classmate, email a teacher, text a friend, yell at your parents, cry to your sister, vent to your boyfriend or girlfriend, or laugh with your teammates. (1-2)

psalm basicsPsalm Basics for Catholics: Seeing Salvation History in a New Way by John Bergsma is a Bible study, but Bergsma’s lighter approach makes this book perfect for summer. This book is informative and engaging without being too formal or serious. Charts and diagrams illustrate the discussion of salvation history and the distinctions among the psalms themselves. There’s much more than basic information here! The book has eleven chapters, so reading one chapter per week will take you right through the summer. I found it hard to stop reading at the end of each chapter — I was quickly wrapped up in Bergsma’s explanations about the history behind the psalms.

How is the Psalter [the book of Psalms] a book about living according to God’s law?

The answer is this: the life according to God’s law is a life of prayer and worship! God’s laws really aim to guide us into a relationship with him. And the Psalter shows us how to live that relationship with him at every moment in whatever mood or situation we find ourselves, whether happy or sad, whether in success or defeat. There is always a psalm that fits your mood, whatever it may be, and that you can pray back to God in the situation you find yourself in.

The Psalter shows us how to walk according to God’s law in an indirect way. (51)

go bravelyEmily Wilson Hussem’s Go Bravely: Becoming the woman you were meant to be was definitely written for an audience more my daughter’s age (22) than mine (more than old enough to have a daughter who’s 22). That didn’t stop me from grabbing a pen and underlining large chunks of it. Wilson’s advice is for women of any age — the anecdotes will appeal most to older teens, college-age, and young-adult women, but the advice is definitely for us all. It would be great for a mother-daughter book club! This book is divided into twenty short chapters, each with a different piece of advice: for example, Find Your Gaggle, Honor Those Who Love You Most, Forgive and Forget, and Radiate with Light are just a few of the topics presented.

Bravery is the main component required for living as a young woman of faith in our world today. If you want to live virtue and proclaim a wholehearted faith in your words, and actions, you have to be bold. You have to be brave. … It is not easy to choose faith continually, and it is challenging to live the bravery that our faith requires of us. (xiii)


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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

#OpenBook: May 2018 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

night the lights went outThe Night the Lights Went Out by Karen White. Not at ALL what I expected — but what a story! Merilee moves into a guesthouse with her kids after divorcing her unfaithful husband. She strikes up an unlikely friendship with her prickly landlady, who’s nursing a lot of old hurts that haunt her more and more as she ages. Merilee enrolls the kids in a local private school and must deal with the Mean Moms crowd. Heather (the chief Mean Mom) suddenly takes Merilee under her wing, making her over in her own image — but something is not quite right. Local scandals turn into danger before long. A terrific read.

emilys songEmily’s Song by Christine Marciniak. An accidental trip through time after her best friend’s wedding lands the unhappily single Emily in the home of an unhappily engaged young man who’s about to head off to the Civil War. Rich historical detail, especially involving fashion, give extra credibility to the tale. I enjoyed the plot twists and well-thought-out connections between past and present. Some proofreading errors in this novel, but overall, the characters, humor, and suspense were spot on.

write me homeWrite Me Home by Crystal Walton (Home in You #1). An enjoyable (and clean) romance, this novel told the story of Ethan, whose heart was broken as a teenager when his sister tied in a tragic accident, and Cassidy, who inherited a summer camp in the Catskills and wants to renovate and sell it. Cassidy can’t get beyond old memories at the camp, and Ethan is similarly stuck in the past, constantly reliving (and blaming himself for) his sister’s death. Restoring the summer camp seems like it will restore both of their spirits — but someone is sabotaging their efforts.

begin againBegin Again by Crystal Walton (Home in You #2). Best of the “Home in You” series (which you don’t have to read in order, BTW), this novel has former model Ti arriving in the Outer Banks on vacation and running into Drew, a single dad with a failing business. Clever banter ensues as Ti charms her way into helping Drew save his shop in the tourist town, but Ti also needs to deal with the ghosts of her own past, which nearly keep her and Drew apart.

space betweenThe Space Between by Dete Meserve. Significant clues are often hidden “in plain sight.” Astronomer Sarah returns from a business trip where she presented an important scientific discovery, only to discover her teenager home alone and her ambitious restauranteur husband missing. What follows is some evidence tampering on her part — intentional and unintentional — as she seeks to find her husband and find out whether he actually is guilty of the murder he’s been accused of committing. The suspense builds, with intruders, secret codes, and plenty of evidence that Sarah herself is not blameless when it comes to problems in her marriage to Ben. Who can be trusted? A well-crafted thriller; I didn’t want to stop reading! Coming July 24 – preorder now! (Netgalley review)

family next doorThe Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth. Single Isabelle doesn’t seem to fit into the Melbourne neighborhood of young families, and everyone’s suspicious. She seems to be particularly fascinated with Essie, a young mother with a terrible secret. But Essie is not the only one with a secret: two other moms on the street wish they could run away from family crises they cannot divulge. A lot of head-hopping, not much character development. (Netgalley review)

last chance matineeThe Last Chance Matinee by Mariah Stewart. I received the second book in this series via Netgalley, so I read them out of order. It definitely would have helped to have read this one first, though I think there were a few continuity errors. Two sisters travel to northeastern Pennsylvania to receive their inheritance after their estranged father’s death — and discover that they have another sister they never knew of. In order to inherit their father’s fortune, the three must live together and renovate a tumbledown theater in town.

surviving stillnessSurviving the Stillness by Jessica White. In this historical novel set in the 1920s, a brother and sister on the run are stranded in a small Montana town and taken in by a woman who works in a Catholic orphanage. 15-year-old Abigail has managed to hold it together despite the trauma she’s faced in the past year or so at the hands of the people who were supposed to protect her — until she reaches the safety of the orphanage. She’s not the only one suffering, however; the local doctor still grieves the loss of his wife and isn’t sure how to deal with the upcoming separation from his son when the young man goes off to college. This is a story of compassionate healing on many levels, and the human ability to heal others even while the healer is suffering.

YA/Children’s

black bottle manBlack Bottle Man by Craig Russell. Can a novel be both chilling and enjoyable at once? This tale of a young boy caught up in a Faustian bargain manages that. Alternating in time from Rembrandt’s younger days through his ninetieth year, the novel slowly fills in the blanks of a deal with the devil that turned a whole family’s life upside-down and left Rembrandt alone in the world and unable to stay in one place longer than 12 days. Imagine being homeless and always on the move for 80 years! YA novel recommended for high-school age and up. (Review copy provided by author)

Nonfiction

OBDH_r_FINALCoverCatholicOne Beautiful Dream by Jennifer Fulwiler. There’s vulnerability in every chapter this book, and that’s what makes it resonate with readers, no matter how much you have (or don’t have) in common with Jennifer. While she brings plenty of the dry wit she’s (deservedly) famous for, she also brings the wisdom — the lessons she has had to learn as a woman, as a mother, and as a professional. Read my full review. (Review copy provided by publisher)

Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links.

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 new logo


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: One Beautiful Dream

I binge-read my way through this book, and I’m not one bit guilty.

In One Beautiful Dream, Jennifer Fulwiler puts her insecurities right there on the page for all to see. That’s not news to anyone who’s followed her blog, but it might be news if the only way you know her work is through her first book, Something Other than God, or through her radio show on SiriusXM’s Catholic Channel.

OBDH_r_FINALCoverCatholic

There’s vulnerability in every chapter this book, and that’s what makes it resonate with readers, no matter how much you have (or don’t have) in common with Jennifer. While she brings plenty of the dry wit she’s (deservedly) famous for, she also brings the wisdom — the lessons she has had to learn as a woman, as a mother, and as a professional.

There are lessons about trusting in God — and acting like you trust in God after you say you trust in God. There are lessons about judging others’ motives based on what you see on the outside. There are lessons about never letting fear control your decision-making.

If you read Something Other than God or listen to Jennifer’s radio show, while you’ll hear a lot about her “crazy” life with 6 homeschooled kids in a small house, you might still get the impression that confidence rules the day for her. And if you’re anything like me, you might get scared off a little, because confident people can have that effect on non-confident people.

One Beautiful Dream, though, is not about confidence. At all. It’s about realizing that you can’t do all the things, and that it’s OK to accept help, and that there are people who are good at the things you either can’t stand to do or just plain aren’t good at doing. When it comes right down to it, One Beautiful Dream is about humility. When we think we can have it all, that’s pride talking.

So here’s my recommendation: plan an easy dinner that involves 5 minutes of work time and 45 minutes to an hour of idle cook time. Pour yourself a cup of your favorite beverage, and find a comfortable chair. Then let yourself dive in, and don’t feel guilty for even a minute.

Let Jennifer Fulwiler encourage you as you step forward in vulnerability.
Barb's Book shelf blog title


Copyright 2018 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.

#OpenBook: April 2018 Reads

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. (I’m a bit late, obviously!)

I had two business trips in April for a total of 7 nights away from home, as well as some other things happening, so my reading time was definitely cut short last month.

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

Fiction

no one ever askedNo One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert. A picture-perfect world shows its inner ugly side when a proposal to bus students from a nearby bankrupt school district means that their school will now be racially integrated. This story is told from 3 points of view: Anaya, who grew up in the now-bankrupt district but who’s teaching in the affluent zip code; Camille, a PTA chair who made her anti-integration views known and whose daughter is now in Anaya’s class; and Jen, who recently adopted a child from Africa and who’s finding the road to new motherhood more than a little bit rocky — and not at all what she expected. Sometimes it was tough to keep the various points of view straight — it got distracting as the book went on for almost 400 pages. Overall, though, it was a good story. Advance copy received from publisher.

island of miraclesIsland of Miracles by Amy Schisler. When Katherine discovers her husband has been living a double life, she abandons her home and job to take a sabbatical of sorts on Chincoteague Island. She’s immediately taken in by the community and finds a job on her first day there. Now calling herself “Kate,” she makes friends with her neighbor and is intrigued by the neighbor’s brother, who’s in the Coast Guard and is clearly interested in her. Then she learns that she’s pregnant — by the man she never wants to see again. A Catholic novel with an excellent priest character. Some far-fetched elements (see above re: job), some editing/proofreading errors. Don’t judge it by its cover (which I think suggests a beachy feel-good romance) — it’s an enjoyable story with plenty of suspense.

sugarhouse bluesThe Sugarhouse Blues by Mariah Stewart. Three sisters must renovate a decrepit theatre in order to inherit their father’s fortune. They discover that there’s not enough money to complete the building’s repairs, and one of the sisters decides to take on some of the complicated art work herself, while another dedicates herself to finding ways to fund the project. And, of course, there’s romance — not only for each of the sisters, but for the aunt they’ve moved in with as well. Great beach read! This is book 2 in a series, and you’re definitely coming in late to the story if you start with this one (as I did). I purchased the first book to find out what I’d missed because I did like the characters, but haven’t yet had the chance to read it. (Netgalley)

wish me homeWish Me Home by Kay Bratt. A young woman running from her past (and her twin sister’s) finds an injured stray dog by the side of the road. He becomes her companion as she walks from Georgia to Key West, encountering some kind souls — and some terrible ones — along the way. Her journey leads her to an old estate where she’s taken in by the family who lives there, to help them run an animal shelter. She also finds romance. The book touches on mental illness, suicide, and life in the foster-care system.

shadows of hopeShadows of Hope by Georgiana Daniels. Marissa worries that her window of opportunity for having children is closing; after a miscarriage she has been unable to conceive. Working in a crisis pregnancy center takes its toll on her emotionally, even though she loves her work and believes in its importance. She thinks her husband is having an affair, but never suspects that it’s one of her clients — and her client-turned-employee has no idea, either. An interesting examination of trust, commitment, and the question of who’s at fault for problems in a marriage. (Netgalley)

every note playedEvery Note Played by Lisa Genova. This novel centers on a heartbreaking situation: Richard, a concert pianist, develops ALS. He loses his career, his independence, and his dignity. His acrimonious divorce from Karina, also a pianist who’d put her career on hold when his took off, becomes a factor when his illness robs him of the ability to live alone. Both Richard and Karina are forced to deal with mistakes of the past. ALS is described in brutal, excruciating detail. A good story, but given the topic, not a fun book to read, and I had a hard time liking either of the two main characters. I felt sorry for them, but didn’t really care about them. Loved the cover. (Netgalley)

YA/Children’s

never be aloneNever Be Alone by Paige Dearth. This was a harrowing story and is definitely only for older teens. Theook contained some proofreading errors. Chapters were very short; the flow of the story seemed choppy. This didn’t seem like too much of a story, but more a “slice of life” that wore at the reader a bit. Joon is out in the care of a sadistic foster mother after her parent’s death. After 4 awful years she runs away and tries to survive on the streets of Philadelphia. (Netgalley review)

Nonfiction

I’ve got a bunch of nonfiction reads in progress. Stay tuned.

Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Thank you for purchasing books through my links!

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!

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On Barb’s Bookshelf: Anyone But Him

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Theresa Linden’s newest Catholic novel, Anyone But Him, centers on the theme of forgiveness and making a new start. Some of my favorite characters from Roland West, Loner and the other novels in the West Brothers series are all grown up in this novel directed at the new-adult audience.

In a surprising twist right off the bat, Caitlyn wakes up one morning to discover she’s married to her friend Roland’s bad-boy older brother, Jarret — and she’s horrified. She also can’t remember anything that’s happened in the past two or three years. How could she be married to the man who’d tormented her good friend for so long?Her coworkers at the private detective agency aren’t much help, and Jarret’s trying to solve the problem by keeping her locked in the house and not letting her call her family. There’s plenty of suspense to keep this story moving along, between strange encounters with both Caitlyn and Jarret’s coworkers and Caitlyn’s various escape attempts. Jarret seems like he’s changed since high school, and Caitlyn’s biggest mission is to find out if that’s for real.

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I like that Theresa Linden has continued the West Brothers series into the characters’ young adulthood, and that she’s framed this novel for the new-adult audience, which has protagonists and readers in the 18-30 age bracket. The first four West Brothers novels are for teens and young adults, but this one, I think, is better aimed at new-adult readers.

The West Brothers Series (in order)

Roland West, Loner (read my full review)
Life-Changing Love (read my full review)
Battle for His Soul
Standing Strong
Anyone But Him

About Theresa Linden

square theresaTheresa Linden is the author of award-winning Catholic teen fiction. Raised in a military family, she developed a strong patriotism and a sense of adventure. Her Catholic faith inspires the belief that there is no greater adventure than the reality we can’t see, the spiritual side of life. She has six published novels, and two short stories in Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body (Full Quiver Publishing). She holds a Catechetical Diploma from Catholic Distance University and is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild and the International Writers Society. A wife, homeschooling mom, and Secular Franciscan, she resides in northeast Ohio with her husband and three teenage boys. To learn more, visit TheresaLinden.com, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

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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 Barb’s Bookshelf: Once Upon a Princess

Will a twelve-year-old princess have enough social-media savvy to save her kingdom? That’s the question behind Christine Marciniak’s middle-grade novel, Once Upon a Princess.

Young fans of The Princess Diaries will enjoy the story of twelve-year-old princess Fritzi of Colsteinburg, whose first chance to attend a ball is capped off with danger when a coup is attempted against her father. Her mother, sister, and a bodyguard take her to the Boston, MA, area, where Fritzi tries to figure out what one seventh-grader can do to set things right in her country and reunite her family — all while navigating the usual middle-school pitfalls. She’s smart and feisty, but not prudent: qualities which will both help her and hurt her along the way.

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Fritzi’s social-media use is key to the outcome of this story. When she decides to make optimistic videos in an attempt to bring her country together after the coup, she learns that the geo-tagging feature (one she didn’t know about) would put her family in danger. Fritzi’s concern not only for her own interests and those of her family, but the interests of her whole country, is an admirable quality in someone so young, and she shows courage, grit, and a firm ability to lead without bullying.

Christine Marciniak, who lives in New Jersey and is the mom of two college students, adds subtle Catholic touches to her novels. In all of her books, you’ll find mention of her characters attending Mass, and Princess Fritzi’s boarding school in France is named Academie Ste. Marie. It’s nice to see fictional characters practicing their faith as a matter of course, and the author is not too heavy-handed about it.

Once Upon a Princess is appropriate (and recommended) for readers age nine and up.

Learn more about author Christine Marciniak: visit ChristineMarciniak.com or follow her on Facebook or Twitter. And check out the book trailer!

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Copyright 2018 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.

Open Book: January/February 2018

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. Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links.

I didn’t get this done for January, and it’s been so long since I’ve read some of the books on my list that I can’t say I remember anything about them, so those were not listed here.

Fiction

fathers sons holy ghosts of baseballFathers, Sons, and the Holy Ghosts of Baseball by Tommy Murray. A small rural Iowa Catholic high school in 1974 fields a baseball team that always makes it to the state finals but never wins the championship. The three elderly men (including the parish priest) who coach the team are determined that this will be the year they do win, and the coaches, all in frail health, are willing to risk everything to make that happen before they retire. The author did a wonderful job creating a sense of both character and place. My one issue with the novel was a throwaway scene (that neither advanced plot nor character) in which the priest “anoints” a woman to play priest in a nursing home. It didn’t work with the setting of the book, and it had nothing to do with the leadership the priest provided to the baseball team. Overall, this was a story that was easy to lose myself in. (Review copy)

wind that shakes the cornThe Wind that Shakes the Corn by Kaye Park Hinckley. An epic novel that follows an eighteenth-century young Irishwoman from her rural home to slavery in St. Kitts and eventually to the American colonies, where she lived through events leading up to the Revolutionary War as well as its aftermath. The theme of revenge runs strong through this novel, as Nell’s hatred of the British whose actions devastated both her family and her homeland runs strong. She and generations of descendants must live with the bitterness of their hunger for revenge, which never tastes as sweet as imagined.
Author Kaye Park Hinckley makes the characters and locations come alive for the reader, portraying a side of history, especially the slave trade, that is rarely depicted in novels and history books. Highly recommended. (Review copy)

paper heartsPaper Hearts by Courtney Walsh. This was a lovely novel — I didn’t want it to end. Abigail Pressman owns a bookshop/cafe in a small Colorado town, and she’s pretty much given up on love. When she decorates her store with some love notes written on paper hearts by an anonymous couple, she has no idea that these have a connection to her new landlord, a doctor whose business partner wants the bookstore closed so the medical practice can expand.

seven days of usSeven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak. A 368-page book that takes place over the course of a week? The action moves slowly for a reason: 6 people are stuck together in a shabby-chic (more shabby than chic) country home, waiting out the quarantine period for one family member who’s been providing medical assistance in Africa during a communicable-disease outbreak. Surprisingly, there was a good deal of suspense, thanks not only to the “will she or won’t she” catch the dread disease, since she and another doctor had a romantic relationship, violating all kinds of epidemic no-contact rules, but also to the arrival of a young man who claims to be a relative, a cancer diagnosis, and a brand-new engagement.

forever my girlForever My Girl by Courtney McLaughlin. When have you ever heard of Hollywood cleaning up a book when they make it into a movie? That’s what happened with Forever My Girl. I saw the movie and since I liked the story, figured I’d love the book even more. But there were so many differences between the book and the movie, it was hardly the same story at all. Hollywood made Liam Page’s father the town minister so that the theme of reconciliation would flow through the movie, a theme I describe in my movie review. The book’s storyline is much more romance, less trust and reconciliation. The book loses a star right off the bat because of the grammatical errors in it. There’s also more usage of the f-bomb than I expected, given the squeaky-clean nature of the movie, and a graphic sex scene that goes on for multiple pages (again, the movie only hints at this). I chose this book after seeing the movie because I wanted more about these characters and their story. I got more — but it wasn’t necessarily more about the same people, and in many instances, it was more than I wanted.

finding fionaFinding Fiona by Donna Fasano. An overextended housewife in the affluent suburbs of Wilmington, DE, has to explain to the police why she didn’t realize her husband had been missing for several days. When he doesn’t return, and there’s no explanation, Fiona has to pick up the pieces and find a way to earn a living. Her old friend Di, having just lost a job, comes to stay with Fiona and help her through the crisis. With themes of reconciliation on many levels, this was an enjoyable book.

recipe boxThe Recipe Box by Viola Shipman (Netgalley review). Samantha had grand ambitions of going to New York City and becoming a great chef, but her mentor’s terrible behavior has her quitting, then returning to her family’s northern-Michigan orchard where she grew up. It was a good story, but there was a bit too much “strong woman” emphasis, neglecting the fact that the men in the family worked as hard and sacrificed as much to make the orchard a success.

 

YA/Children’s

i am not your perfect mexican daughterI Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sánchez. This is categorized YA, but I wouldn’t give it to a younger teen. Not what I expected, this book was angry, dark, and depressing. It lacked a good sense of place — you never got a feel for the Chicago neighborhood where Julia lives, though when she visits her relatives in Mexico, that is better described. (Maybe this was deliberate?) Not what I expected, this book was angry, dark, and depressing. It lacked a good sense of place — you never got a feel for the Chicago neighborhood where Julia lives, though when she visits her relatives in Mexico, that is better described. (Maybe this was deliberate?) Julia always feels like the second-rate second daughter, and when her “perfect” older sister is killed in a traffic accident, her depression and guilt, combined with her parents’ grief, threatens to undo her. Julia’s only ambitions are to get out of her neighborhood and become a writer, and the only other thing that interests her is uncovering the secrets she’s sure her sister left behind. Finding out the truth of those secrets was the only reason I finished this book. Strong language (bilingual), some violence, and sexual situations.

Nonfiction

light entrusted to youThe Light Entrusted to You: Keeping the Flame of Faith Alive by  John R. Wood. A parent-to-parent guide to help you share Catholicism with your family by living Catholicism with your family. The author is not a theologian or professor: he’s an eye doctor and a parent who loves his children and his faith. The chapters are cleverly titled to form the acronym “SAINTS,” and the topics covered range from saints to Scripture to sports (yes, sports). A more-detailed table of contents or an index would be helpful in this book, but the information in the book is solid and Wood’s delivery is engaging. Read my full review.

lenten healingLenten Healing: 40 Days to Set You Free From Sin by Ken Kniepmann is a do-it-yourself retreat that focuses not only on sin, but on the virtues that will have room in our lives if we free ourselves from sin. Filled with relatable, concrete examples of the faces of sin in our lives, Scripture passages and questions for meditation (keep a journal handy!),  and short prayers, this book is a gateway for readers to confront — and weed out — those sinful actions and tendencies that keep us far from God. Read my full review.

humility rulesHumility Rules: Saint Benedict’s 12-Step Guide to Genuine Self-Esteem by J. Augustine Wetta, OSB. The author does not talk down to teens, but rather challenges them to engage with their faith as they grow in virtue. Self-esteem might seem like a dated buzzword, but Wetta demonstrates how it’s important, even virtuous, for teens to develop a healthy self-esteem. Read my full review.

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!

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Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
Unless otherwise noted, I purchased these books myself or read library copies. Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Opinions expressed here are mine.