#OpenBook: March 2020 Binge Reads

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

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

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

Fiction

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nonfiction

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

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

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

Where noted, books are review copies. If that is not indicated, I either purchased the book myself or borrowed it from the library.

Follow my Goodreads reviews for the full list of what I’ve read recently (even the duds!)

Visit today’s #OpenBook post to join the linkup or just get some great ideas about what to read! You’ll find it at Carolyn Astfalk’s A Scribbler’s Heart and at CatholicMom.com!

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Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Hunkering Down in the Domestic Monastery

If ever there was a time when a book like Fr. Ronald Rolheiser’s Domestic Monastery was needed, that time is now. With schools closed and many people telecommuting, our domestic churches have become the centers of our world like never before. Parents like me, long removed from the housebound days with very little children, will re-familiarize themselves with what it’s like to be at home with our families: no school, no sports, no rehearsals, no trips to the movie theater.

I was greeted cheerfully yesterday by my 18-year-old son (my youngest), who’d just learned that he probably won’t be back in school until after Easter: “So who’s ready to spend the next four weeks with ME?”

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Domestic Monastery, a mystical yet down-to-earth look at the spirituality of being a parent, will encourage and uplift parents at any stage in their parenting journey. Rolheiser emphasizes that there is nothing “lesser-than” about being a parent, as opposed to being a priest or religious. Instead, he compares the life of a parent to that of a monastic, drawing parallels that focus especially on the self-abandonment necessary in love.

Spiritual writers and mystics such as St. John of the Cross provide wisdom, Rolheiser asserts, that is valuable to parents as well as cloistered religious.

This little book invites parents to contemplate and appreciate their particular vocation in a new and deeper way. It will also whet the reader’s appetite for digging into the works of mystical writers.

Domestic Monastery is only 89 pages long, but it took me longer to read than I’d expected. That’s because I kept stopping to meditate on a phrase or sentence more deeply. This is a book that a reader can keep coming back to: once you’ve read it all the way through, keep it handy so you can revisit the pages with quotes. They are excellent journal prompts or prayer starters.

Br. Mickey McGrath, OSFS, created the painting of the Holy Family that graces the cover of this book. It is striking that there are four figures in this painting: Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the Holy Spirit. What a beautiful representation of the Family that is the example for all families!

If you or someone you know are feeling overwhelmed by the demands of your time, energy, and love that being a parent requires, Domestic Monastery will help you put your situation in perspective in a comforting and engaging way.

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Image credit: Pixabay.com (2014), CC0/PD

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

An Open Book: Winter 2020 Reads

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

It’s been so long since I’ve done this; I haven’t kept up with my Goodreads account, and a couple of weeks ago I replaced my Kindle, so now I don’t have that handy-dandy record of ebooks I’ve read (I’m sure it’s available somewhere, but not as easy as swiping page by page through my catalog of books).

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

Fiction

The Rum RunnerThe Rum Runner by Christine Marciniak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Prohibition-era New Jersey, an immigrant with ties to the smuggling industry dies in a dockside turf war. Police officer Alice Grady wants to solve his mysterious death and help his widow and children. Fisherman Hank Chapman, also involved in smuggling, doesn’t want the police to investigate too closely, but he can’t deny his attraction to Alice. A fascinating and well researched tale of suspense.

Come Back to MeCome Back to Me by Carolyn Astfalk

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let me introduce you to the latest binge read from author Carolyn Astfalk. It’s easy to get swept up in Carolyn’s stories, because the characters are true and the dialogue will just carry you along. The male characters in Carolyn’s novels aren’t just one-dimensional caricatures — they’re people you could imagine meeting.
Kicked out of a marriage he’d kind of just fallen into, Alan finds himself bunking in with his brother Chris and wife Rebecca, who are expecting their first baby. Alan grapples with his own wish for children, his desire to reconcile with a wife who doesn’t seem to want anything to do with him, and unrelated job struggles. Complicating matters is his wife’s friend Megan, whose dissatisfaction with her own life choices puts her into an awkward situation with Alan.

A Channel of Your PeaceA Channel of Your Peace by Veronica Smallhorn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Warning: keep your box of tissues handy as you read this sweet story! Erin’s engagement is broken off after her live-in fiance confesses infidelity, and then she finds out she’s pregnant with his child. Her suffering leads her back to faith; it’s not an easy road, but she receives help and consolation in her suffering, both from Our Lady of Guadalupe and a martyr priest. Theology of the Body themes are woven throughout.

Welcome to Wishing Bridge (Wishing Bridge, #1)Welcome to Wishing Bridge by Ruth Logan Herne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pregnant and alone, Kelsey has a car accident in blinding snow that lands her in a town she’d hoped to avoid: her mother’s hometown. She’s sure the locals won’t want anything to do with her, considering her mother’s history of crime and substance abuse. But most of the town turns out to welcome her, as well as her two best friends, who’d grown up in foster care with Kelsey. A lovely story about a lovely town where I’d love to live!

At Home in Wishing Bridge (Wishing Bridge #2)At Home in Wishing Bridge by Ruth Logan Herne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thea, a nurse practitioner who’d lost her job just before her friend Kelsey’s accident, has begun working in Wishing Bridge’s understaffed medical practice. Ethan, the doctor temporarily assigned to the practice, has care of his orphaned niece and nephew and only wants to leave for Chicago to do medical research — but he knows that won’t be good move for the kids, and he’s starting to fall for Thea.
I was really hoping there’d be a Book 3 in this series.

The Book of Lost FriendsThe Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story, told in split time (1875 and 1987), explores the post-Civil-War struggles of former slaves as they attempted to make their way as free people with very limited opportunities in the South and reconnect with family members lost to the slave trade. A teacher in a small Southern town discovers a cache of classic books in an abandoned estate, and this leads her to educate her students about their local history — even when it didn’t make the locals look good. (Netgalley review)

If for Any ReasonIf for Any Reason by Courtney Walsh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An enjoyable story of transformation and reconciliation. Emily returns to Nantucket, where her family had summered until her mother died when Emily was 12. Her grandfather bequeathed the family’s summer home to Emily, who must restore the place before selling it. But her childhood neighbor is on the island too, right next door, with his own tween daughter and pain of a broken relationship.

Please See UsPlease See Us by Caitlin Mullen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A murder mystery set in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and based on a true story. Across the bay from AC, the bodies of several young women were found in a marsh behind a cheap motel. All had ties to the sex trade. Caitlin Mullen tells the story from the points of view of two of the young women, as well as a man who knows something about what’s happening, but can’t make his voice heard. I chose this book because I remembered the story from the news a few years ago. It’s a harrowing story, well told. Warning: sexual violence, other violence, graphic language. (Netgalley review)

YA/Children’s

Extreme Blindside by Leslea Wahl. Read my full review.

Earthquake WeatherEarthquake Weather by Kevin Rush

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A coming-of-age story about some young Filipino girls in the San Francisco Bay area; Kristine (age 13) knows her super-smart cousin Jamie’s boyfriend is involved in a gang, but Jamie needs Kristine’s help to see Raul secretly and fixes Kristine up with Fabio — which leads them all into a dangerous situation. I picked this book up when it was recommended in the #CatholicFictionChallenge on Instagram.

Nonfiction

I’ve reviewed the following nonfiction books this winter. Click through to my full reviews:

Living Memento Mori by Emily DeArdo

Giving Thanks and Letting Go by Danielle Bean

Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story by Nancy Ward

Pray Fully by Michele Faehnle and Emily Jaminet


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!

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Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Come Back to Me”

Let me introduce you to the latest binge read from author Carolyn Astfalk. It’s easy to get swept up in Carolyn’s stories, because the characters are true and the dialogue will just carry you along. Come Back to Me is no exception.

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One of the things Carolyn does particularly well is writing about brothers. (She says this is because she has several older brothers herself.) The male characters in Carolyn’s novels aren’t just one-dimensional caricatures — they’re people you could imagine meeting. I mention brothers because Come Back to Me centers on a pair of brothers we first met in Stay with Me. (This novel is a standalone, but really, why would you want to? Especially since Stay with Me is on sale for 99 cents on Kindle through Friday, 2/28/20.)

Kicked out of a marriage he’d kind of just fallen into, Alan finds himself bunking in with his brother Chris and wife Rebecca, who are expecting their first baby. Alan grapples with his own wish for children, his desire to reconcile with a wife who doesn’t seem to want anything to do with him, and unrelated job struggles. Complicating matters is his wife’s friend Megan, whose dissatisfaction with her own life choices puts her into an awkward situation with Alan.

What you won’t find: billionaires or glamorous people with perfect clothes and surprisingly lucrative careers (in traditionally dicey industries) at ridiculously young ages. I’m tired of what I call aspirational fiction. I’d rather read about people with real, relatable struggles.

Highly recommended. Block off some time to binge-read Come Back to Me. Stat.

Watch the trailer:

About the book:

Alan Reynolds slid into marriage. When his wife kicks him out, it looks as if he may slide out just as easily. Forced to bunk with his newlywed younger brother and his pregnant wife, Alan gets a firsthand look at a blissfully happy marriage while his wife rebuffs his attempts at a reunion.

Caught in the middle, Alan and his wife’s mutual friend Megan grows increasingly unhappy with her own empty relationships. If that weren’t enough, her newly sober brother has found happiness with Jesus, a goody-goody girlfriend, and a cockeyed cat.

When Alan and Megan hit rock bottom, will there be grace enough in their bankrupt lives to right their relationships and find purpose like their siblings have?

About the author:

CAstfalk 2020 profile

Carolyn Astfalk resides with her husband and four children in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where it smells like either chocolate or manure, depending on wind direction. She is the author of the contemporary Catholic romances Stay With MeOrnamental Graces, and All in Good Time, and the coming-of-age story Rightfully Ours. Carolyn is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild, Catholic Teen Books, Pennwriters, and is a CatholicMom.com and Today’s Catholic Teacher contributor. True to her Pittsburgh roots, she still says “pop” instead of “soda,” although her beverage of choice is tea.

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Courtesy of Carolyn Astfalk.

Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. When you purchase books through any of the affiliate links in this post, you support Franciscanmom.com at no extra cost to you!

On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Pray Fully”

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CatholicMom.com contributors Michele Faehnle and Emily Jaminet are known for their encouraging spiritual books for women, Divine Mercy for Moms and The Friendship Project (both from Ave Maria Press) and Our Friend Faustina (from Marian Press). They have teamed up once again to write Pray Fully, a practical guide to deepening your prayer life.

Pray Fully: Simple Steps for Becoming a Woman of Prayer (Ave Maria Press) is written from that friend-to-friend point of view that Michele and Emily do so well. Taking turns chapter by chapter, they share their own stories of struggles and victories in prayer, offering advice based on what they’ve learned the hard way.

pray fully

The authors back up their own advice with saintly examples; each chapter has a section titled “Meet your Heavenly Friend,” in which readers learn about the prayer lives and practices of Sts. Gemma Galgani, Teresa of Kolkata (Mother Teresa), Gianna Beretta Molla, Louis and Zélie Martin, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) and Margaret Mery Alacoque. Each chapter also includes a reflection by one of the authors, a “Let’s Pray” section that explains a particular prayer practice, inspiring quotes from the saints, and a prayer prompt.

Because prayer is not a one-size-fits-all experience, and our own prayer needs, opportunities, and preferences change, Michele and Emily outline several different approaches to prayer, along with providing the opportunity to explore each of them. These approaches include resting in Jesus’ presence, lectio divina, making an examen, and creating a legacy of faith. They address the tough questions associated with unanswered prayers, and also discuss personal devotions such as dedication to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The final chapter offers meditations, reflections, and journaling space for readers to explore the various prayer approaches discussed in Pray Fully. You’re not expected to do it all — there’s not enough time in the day to do it all — but encouraged to find a way to add or deepen a prayer practice.

Pray Fully would make an excellent Lenten spiritual read.

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

Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story: “Your Light Must Shine”

On this Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Gospel is the familiar sermon from Jesus: “You are the salt of the earth … you are the light of the world.” As I read today’s Mass readings, I couldn’t help but think that Nancy Ward’s Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story is the perfect next step.

Sharing your catholic faith story

This Gospel reading is all about how we evangelize. Sometimes people interpret the reading as a caution not to hide your gifts and talents, but I think there’s another way to read it, as well. It’s a call to use our gifts and talents, given by God, to witness to His love and His work in our lives.

I’m an introvert, happiest when working behind the scenes. The idea of putting myself out there and talking about my faith is daunting. But Nancy Ward knows what she’s talking about here. She’s put together an easy-to-use book of “tools, tips and testimonies” to help readers, no matter what their level of comfort with talking about God in public, figure out how they can best let their light shine.

The first part of the book helps you define your faith story, sorting out what’s significant, and learning to use a spiritual journal to organize your thoughts. Chapter 9 was comforting to this introvert: titled “Gentleness and Reverence: Tips for Sharing Your Faith Story,” it drove home the point that a soft approach (definitely my style) is both possible and beneficial.

St. Francis of Assisi is frequently (mis)attributed with saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Whether or not the saint actually said, this, it’s good advice. If you’re a person of faith, it’s not only your words that reflect what you believe. It’s your actions and attitudes.

About three-quarters of this book is packed with testimonies of Catholics: writers, speakers, and others who have found ways to let their own light shine and guide people to Christ.

Nancy Ward’s favorite Scripture quote about evangelizing is all over this book:

Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope. (1 Peter 3:15)

Do you want to be ready? Reading Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story will provide concrete tips and plenty of inspiration.

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Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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

Encouragement for moms of growing-up kids: “Giving Thanks and Letting Go”

 

Before my oldest became a teenager, I found Danielle Bean’s writing, tucked each day at the bottom of a newsletter for a Catholic electronic-greetings service. I looked forward to those newsletters and the little stories about family life, paired with some food for the soul, that Danielle included each day.

It never even crossed my mind that there was a possibility that one day we’d even meet: but here we are, with our then-little kids grown — and growing — up, working together. Originally the publisher of Today’s Catholic Teacher, Danielle is now the brand manager at CatholicMom.com, so I’ve worked with her in two places, and that’s something my 2004 self could never have imagined.

After all these years, I feel like I know her kids … from what she says on Instagram, her 17-year-old sounds an awful lot like mine. And her new book speaks to my heart right now, in this emptying-nest season of life.

giving thanks and letting go

Danielle’s newest book, releasing today from Ave Maria Press, was written to encourage us moms of growing-up kids. In Giving Thanks and Letting Go: Reflections on the Gift of Motherhood, Danielle doesn’t sugar-coat the tough stuff, but reminds us that yes, it’s worth it; it matters; we’ve got this.

Can this small work, unseen and unthanked, wiping up spills and cooking macaroni, really matter? … God tells me yes. And it’s him that I meet in that gap, that space between what I know and what I feel. It is God who sees me there in that space and calls me to trust and to grow closer to him inside my suffering. I just have to remember to look for him there. (46)

I don’t know about you, but I definitely need to be reminded that I’ve got this — and that God’s got this — when struggles get me down.

Getting used to new seasons in life can be hard. In Giving Thanks and Letting Go, Danielle acknowledges that, and gives us permission to grieve (a little) for days gone by and missed opportunities, but calls us to look forward in hope and joy to what life will bring.

Find Danielle:

The Catholic Momcast (CatholicMom.com)
Girlfriends podcast with Danielle Bean (Ascension)
The Gist (CatholicTV)
DanielleBean.com

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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: Extreme Blindside

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New this winter from Pauline Books & Media: Extreme Blindside, Leslea Wahl’s second book in the Blindside series.

The series begins with The Perfect Blindside, which follows Jake, a self-described “snowboarding phenom” and teenage Olympian with a chip on his shoulder and his classmate Sophie, a small-town girl who’s proud of it–and who tends to geek out over local history. Jake and Sophie become an unlikely pair as they puzzle over suspicious occurrences in the town of Silver Springs, Colorado.

In Extreme Blindside, Wahl revisits the world of extreme winter sports. Jake and Sophie seek to protect other athletes from dangerous competitive sabotage even as the world-class athlete and aspiring reporter face threats to their relationship.

Wahl shines in creating true-to-life characters with real flaws, yet who have faith and strong family example to guide them along the way. Both books in the series are told from dual points of view, allowing readers to relate to each of the main characters.

extreme blindside cover

The author graciously agreed to answer my questions about Extreme Blindside (and her other fiction for teens, much of which is interconnected).

Is it tough to write a “sequel” when you’ve done several other novels in between? Or do you view this more as an installment in a series?

I’m hoping to write at least one more book in the Blindside series. But yes, it was a little difficult to get back into the characters. I had written two other YA books, An Unexpected Role and Where You Lead, since I had written The Perfect Blindside. When I finally decided to focus on the next installment of their story, it took a little while to get back into their voices. I struggled a bit until I finally decided to write a few short stories with Jake and Sophie as well as two characters from An Unexpected Role. For some reason, this helped.

What’s your favorite thing about each of the main characters?

I love Sophie’s curious nature. She wants to be a journalist and that questioning aspect of her personality helps when they become involved in these mysteries. I really enjoyed researching topics for Sophie’s nervous ramblings about Colorado facts. It was so fun discovering interesting tidbits that I didn’t know about my native state.

Jake is probably the most difficult character for me to relate to of all the characters I’ve created. But this guy really has a great heart and is trying to do the right thing. Writing the snowboarding scenes take a lot of research and imagination. But honestly, watching videos of amazing athletes hardly seems like work.

Do your kids ever worry that something they do or say will wind up in your books? I know you had a character with that worry in another novel.

That was the premise of An Unexpected Role, an author causing trouble by including too much about her children in a book. While I usually include some little incidents that have happened to our family, the characters are nothing like my children and I stay away from anything personal. However, I did ask their permission regarding the book I’m working on now, a sibling adventure, because from the outside the family does seem to be a bit like ours. My children are all young adults now and are very encouraging of my work. They all actually help me out in various ways through marketing, editing, offering feedback, and inspiration.

Do you or your family members do extreme sports?

No. The kids have tried snowboarding a few times but really, we are a family of skiers. I have always loved watching the winter Olympics and especially the snowboarding events. I’ve also been fascinated with the dedication and sacrifice it takes to become a top athlete.

What’s next for these characters? Can you give us a sneak peek into your future book plans?

I have two projects that I am currently working on. One is the family mystery/adventure I mentioned before, tentatively titles A Summer to Treasure. This one is a little different than my other books. Since it’s about siblings, it doesn’t contain as much romance, but it is a project I’ve been excited about for a few years. The other is the third adventure for Jake and Sophie. eXtreme Blindside ends with a bit of unfinished business that I will explore in the third book.

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Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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

On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Living Memento Mori” by Emily DeArdo

 

Emily DeArdo’s Living Memento Mori: My Journey through the Stations of the Cross, is a little book that packs a big spiritual punch.

A couple of years ago when I first started seeing books on the topic of memento mori (several of which were written by Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, fsp, who also wrote the foreword to this book), I wasn’t sure what to make of the whole idea. I’m a head-in-the-sand girl when it comes to thinking about my own mortality, or that of the people I love. I roll my eyes when my mom (yet again) re-plans her funeral and sends me a new list of instructions, right down to the musician she wants to play at the Mass. (A classmate of one of my kids, he lives 150 miles from my parents’ home and has never met them, so I’m not sure how this is going to work out, but Mom’s entitled to her hopes and dreams, I guess.)

I was surprised to find that Sr. Theresa Aletheia’s books were anything but creepy and morbid. But I didn’t let myself get too deep into the whole topic … and then, this fall, I entered into a season of life in which I just can’t avoid the thought anymore. The reality of my loved ones’ mortality was brought to the fore in some very big ways, and it has been a very stressful time. Couple that with the fact that my teenager lives with type 1 diabetes, a disease which he keeps under very good control but which has its scary, sometimes random moments, and I was perfectly positioned for the comforting take on this topic that Emily DeArdo provides in Living Memento Mori.

living memento mori

Yes, I said “comforting.” I’m not the one in my family facing health problems, but I’m supporting several loved ones with theirs, and there have been times when that was very overwhelming. I didn’t think I’d want to touch a book on the topic of death when the idea seemed way too close for comfort as it was, but I truly felt that DeArdo gets it. I needed to read this book.

You get news that shatters your world to its core and smashes your heart into a million pieces. And yet you still have to do laundry and make dinner and put gas in the car. It was the same for Jesus. On that day in Jerusalem, people still had to earn a living, clean their homes for Passover, buy vegetables, and fruits for dinner, get water at the well, tell their kids to stop fighting, and set the table.

But even if the world doesn’t stop, Jesus does. He know what we’re going through when our hearts break. Jesus knows what it’s like to be judged, to lose everything, and to receive a death sentence. … In our heartbreak, we can go to the Lord, and he wants us to come to him. The question isn’t whether Jesus is with us; the question is whether we will turn toward him or away from him in our pain. (5)

What if realizing you can’t do this on your own and surrendering your will to God — giving him the whole messy situation, all the pain, all the emotion — is what God wants you to do? (48)

Each of the 14 chapters corresponds to one of the Stations of the Cross. DeArdo begins each chapter with a short meditation on a particular Station, then discusses her own spiritual journey as well as the particular health challenges she faces as a cystic fibrosis patient and lung transplant recipient. Keep a notebook or journal handy as you read: every chapter concludes with several questions for journaling.

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One of the Stations of the Cross at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston, Massachusetts. Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

I’m not unfamiliar with the Stations of the Cross; my great-aunts and great-uncle, to whom I was very close, had a deep devotion to the Stations and made sure to get to a church daily to pray them. Over the years I’ve prayed various settings of the Stations of the Cross, but Living Memento Mori has brought this devotion home to me in a way that hasn’t happened before. It’s an encouragement and a comfort, even upon contemplating the horrors of Jesus’ Passion, to know that He understands our suffering. DeArdo’s insights into this topic make the burdens we face a little lighter.

I’ve learned that saying yes, even through clenched teeth in a whisper, is better than saying no to God. Why? Because even when you’re saying it amid a torrent of tears as you’re curled up in bed and you have no idea how this yes can lead to anything good, God is there. On the Cross, on Good Friday, Jesus felt abandonment. He felt the loss of God. He is the only one who can really understand the way you feel. (64)

Lent is an excellent time to foster a devotion to the Stations of the Cross, as many parishes offer weekly services on Fridays. But you don’t need to attend a special service to pray the Stations of the Cross. You can bring Living Memento Mori to church with you to walk the Stations as you pray; there’s an Appendix with a specially written meditation for each of the 14 Stations. Or you can pray the Stations at home. You don’t even have to wait until Lent to start. Living Memento Mori is an excellent prayer companion for anyone going through a time of trial and challenge.

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One of the Stations of the Cross at St. Casimir Church/Resurrection Parish, Riverside, New Jersey. Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz.

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

“The Saint Monica Club”: Comfort for the Worried and Weary

If you have a loved one who has left the Church, or one who’s just fallen away, you’ve probably already learned what won’t work.

Nagging. Begging. Pleading. Crying. Yelling.

I’m here to tell you that none of that is going to be effective. And it was a great relief to read Maggie Green’s book, The Saint Monica Club, and be affirmed in this.

Yes, I said “relief.”

This is certainly not a club that any of us want to be in. Of course, we all want to be in that other club, the one in which people’s loved ones willingly and happily join them in the pew each Sunday and maybe even more often than that. The club where they can talk about church, and faith, in their homes without being greeted by reactions that range from eye-rolling to open antagonism.

Because I am not in that other club, I need to embrace what I’ve learned in The Saint Monica Club

Saint Monica Club

The hardest part of loving someone estranged from the Faith is the sense of isolation. … there are no support groups for those grieving the loss of a family member from the Faith. This loneliness is no accident. It is the Devil’s design to make not only your child but you, too, feel cut off from God. You will need people with whom you can walk, pray, and weep when it gets hard. (25)

The Saint Monica Club will not tell you how to lure someone back to the Church. It will tell you how to live with your own grief, how to bring your loved one to the Lord in prayer, how to connect with others in the same situation, and how to build up the virtues you will need to be the witness your loved one needs.

You don’t necessarily need to read this book start to finish. Skip around; look at the table of contents and open to the chapter whose descriptive title speaks to you right now. Bring the book to the Adoration chapel or read a chapter as you pray before Mass — the chapters are short and well-designed for this purpose.

My only regret is that I read an electronic version of this book. I was highlighting it all over the place. I’m going to need to get my hands on the print edition, so I can highlight some more, make notes, and easily refer back to it when I need a shot of perseverance and some inspiration in patient endurance.

Make friends with the company of saints, and if you have favorite saints, put them on notice. (26)


Copyright 2019 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.