On Barb’s Bookshelf: Catholic Fun from Ave Maria Press

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Celebrate the fun of being Catholic with two clever offerings from Ave Maria Press.

Tommy Tighe’s Catholic Hipster Handbook reminded me of what I love about handbooks.

True confession: when I was in high school, The Preppy Handbook came out. My high school was preppy long before Lisa Birnbach told the rest of us how to imitate the real deal, complete with detailed drawings of what to wear for all occasions. I studied that book relentlessly, though it was clear from the subtext that as alligator-logo shirts and Weejuns weren’t in my budget, I wasn’t worthy to be among those who were to the manor born.

The Catholic Hipster Handbook is packed with plenty of Catholic inside baseball without making the reader feel unworthy. This book won’t teach you how to be a cool Catholic. Instead, it revels in what’s cool about being Catholic and invites the reader to revel in it too.

Tommy Tighe gathered together 15 cool Catholics, many of whom you’ll find speaking and tweeting and writing and hosting Catholic radio shows, to help put this handbook together. One of my favorite essays was Tommy’s own “Take a fresh look at that rosary” which encouraged readers to explore other forms of the rosary and chaplets. I’d add the Franciscan Crown to Tommy’s list of rosary-based prayer alternatives. Lisa Hendey details the must-have apps: I love the way she uses Evernote! And Anna Mitchell’s essay on the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours) is excellent as well. And and and …

This isn’t a book you need to read start-to-finish. Skip around. Open at random. The only thing this book doesn’t have (that I wish it did) is a detailed table of contents that includes the title of each essay. In a book of this nature, that would have been very helpful.

Who should read it: anyone who’s into history, trivia, and great stories — and who possesses a healthy sense of humor.

Speaking of trivia, reading The Catholic Hipster Handbook will prove very handy when you open up Catholic Puzzles, Word Games, and Brainteasers. (It’s not cheating if you read the Handbook before you do the puzzles! It’s priming your brain!)

Matt Swaim included puzzles of all kinds in Catholic Puzzles. If crosswords aren’t your thing, there are plenty of anagrams, code scrambles, word-link puzzles, and more. Do you like a challenge? Try the word search with missing vowels.

Some of the puzzles are quick to complete, like “Misspelled Books of the Bible” (of course I did this one first!) and “Scrambled Partner Saints.” Others, such as “Alphabet Fill-Ins,” will take a while.

When you’ve filled in all the blanks in Catholic Puzzles, Word Games, and Brainteasers, you’ll be relieved to note that there’s a Volume 2 with even more Catholic-puzzle fun.

Who will love it: teachers, youth-group leaders, and anyone who enjoys puzzles! Pair it with a pack of mechanical pencils for a terrific gift.


Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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On Barb’s Bookshelf: Julia’s Gifts

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When you open up Ellen Gable’s newest novel, Julia’s Gifts, prepare to be charmed.

As you continue reading, prepare to weep a little — and smile a little more.

Julia’s Gifts begins in Philadelphia during World War I, but the scene quickly shifts to France as the plucky twenty-year-old protagonist gamely makes her way to the battlefront to serve in a field hospital.

Before crossing the Atlantic, however, Julia is busy purchasing Christmas gifts for her family. Years before, when her mother suggested that she begin to pray for her future spouse, Julia decided to take things one step further and make or purchase a Christmas gift for her beloved each year. She already has two pairs of hand-knit socks, plus a leather-bound pocket notebook,  stashed away; this year, determined that this will be the year she meets her beloved, she overspends on a beautiful engraved pocket watch.

I loved Julia’s hopefulness, shown that December of 1917 when she spent nearly all she had on a gift for someone she had not yet met. These gifts figure significantly in the story — because she brings them to a war zone with her, in the hopes that she’ll get to give them to her one true love. Instead, she finds that she’s called to sacrifice them in ways she never imagined.

 

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Because I enjoyed Julia’s story so much, I was happy to learn that this is the first of a trilogy called “Great War Great Love.” Here’s what you can expect from the next two books:

Charlotte’s Honor is Book #2 and takes place at approximately the same time as Julia’s Gifts, but focuses on a different female protagonist, Charlotte, who finds her purpose in life when she begins working in the death ward and holding men’s hands as they die.  She is attracted to Canadian Dr. Paul Kilgallen. During an advance by the enemy, everyone at the field hospital evacuates, except for Charlotte and Dr. K.  They remain hidden in the basement of the chateau to take care of the terminally ill men and those soldiers who can’t be moved. Charlotte becomes convinced that Paul is her own “beloved.” But when she loses contact with Paul, she fears not only for his safety, but begins to doubt his love for her.  Charlotte’s Honor will be released in late 2018.

Ella’s Promise is Book #3 in the series. It is about the daughter of German immigrants, Ella, an American nurse who (because of the time period) was discouraged from continuing on in her studies to be a doctor.  She works as a nurse for three years in Philadelphia but reads medical books every opportunity she gets. During the Great War, she travels to Le Treport, France to work at the American-run hospital. She meets her own beloved in the last place she would expect to meet him.  Ella’s Promise will be released in mid-2019.

Julia’s Gifts is written for a YA audience and will appeal to young teen readers as well as adults. Be assured that while it is a historical romance, it is a “clean romance” and you can feel safe handing it to your daughters to enjoy — as long as they have the stomach for the inevitable description of war injuries.

Read the first few pages:

December 17, 1917

The bustling streets of Center City Philadelphia shimmered with electric lights, heralding that Christmas was near. Julia Marie Murphy lifted her head and gazed upward. The night sky was filled with snow clouds, the air brisk. She pulled on her gloves and buttoned the top of her coat. Her thoughts turned to her future husband. Dear God in heaven, please protect my beloved.

Tens of thousands of American men had already enlisted to fight in this “Great War.” The gentlemen that Julia knew seemed anxious to join, and Julia thanked God that her three brothers were too young to fight.

In a few short weeks, it would be 1918.  All of her father’s friends and acquaintances expected the war to end soon, hopefully before the middle of the year.  But 1918 held far more significance for Julia.  This would be the year that she would turn 21.

She approached Lit Brothers department store, admiring the display windows that were outlined with colored electric lights. Julia was thankful that it was Monday. If it were Thursday, the ban on electric lights (in support of the war effort) would mean the windows would be dark.

Julia stared, transfixed, through the window at the tall display. Shimmery red fabric hung from a back wall, a beautiful sterling silver pocket watch lay on top of a cylindrical pedestal.  Her eyes widened when she saw the price tag: $12.25, almost 20 percent of her annual salary. But it was beautiful and every man needed one. The price notwithstanding, this would be a perfect gift for her beloved. Yes, it was extravagant, especially during wartime. Yes, there were less expensive items she could purchase. It didn’t matter. This was the ideal gift.

After purchasing it, she took it to the engraving department on the second floor. Behind the counter, the tall, lanky middle-aged man with a handlebar mustache smiled. “What would you like engraved on this?”

“To my beloved, next line, all my love, Julia.”

His eyebrows lifted.  “I’m certain the gentleman would prefer to have his Christian name engraved on this lovely timepiece.  Don’t you agree?”

“Well, yes, I imagine he would.  But I don’t really know his name or who he is yet.”

The man’s mouth fell open and he stuttered.  “I’m..I’m…s…sorry, Miss. I…I don’t understand.  You’ve bought an expensive pocket watch for someone you don’t know?”

Julia sighed.  She shouldn’t have said anything.

“Please just use the words I gave you.”

The man nodded and regarded Julia with an expression of suspicious curiosity, a look one might give a person in an asylum.

“How long will it take?”

“For the engraving?  Ten days.  Sorry, Miss, but you won’t have it in time for Christmas.”

“That’s all right.” Julia turned and walked a few steps and heard the salesman mumble, “Now there’s an odd girl.  Buying a gift for someone she doesn’t know. Tsk tsk.”

Sighing, she checked her own wristwatch and hurried out of the store to begin the three-block walk to her trolley stop.  If she didn’t get there in time for the five p.m. streetcar, she would be waiting half an hour.

This year Julia was determined that she would meet her beloved, the man for whom she had been praying these past four years. Why hadn’t she met him yet?  Some of her friends were already married. Her beloved was out there and she would find him.  Yes, 1918 would also be the year that she would meet her beloved.

Each December, Julia wondered what she would buy her beloved for Christmas. Last year, she searched different stores but found nothing special. She finally discovered — and bought — a brown leather pocket journal at a specialty store at Broad and Bigler Streets. She didn’t know whether her beloved would be the sort to write in one, but it seemed like an appropriate gift, especially since it had a delicate leaf embossed on the cover. The year before, she had bought a sterling silver Miraculous Medal because her beloved would be Catholic.

That first year, her mother suggested that she begin praying for her future husband.  After a few weeks of doing so, Julia felt inspired to do more. It had been the week before Christmas, so she decided that she would buy or make him a Christmas gift each year until they met.  With no job and no money that year, Julia knit him two pairs of socks, one blue-green and one green-brown, with finely-made yarn that her mother had given her.

The fact that she had made or bought gifts, and had spent hard-earned money for her future husband, had not pleased her father as he thought it too impractical and sentimental. Her mother, however, had declared that it was a beautiful gesture. Of course, if Mother knew how much she had spent on the most recent gift, she was pretty certain her mother wouldn’t be happy.

Julia’s Gifts is available on Kindle and in paperback from Full Quiver Publishing.
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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.
Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

New from Lisa Hendey: A Prayer Calendar for Catholic Moms

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Space on my desk is precious real estate, only to be granted to the things that really need to be there: computer, planner, Post-It notes, a box of tissues, a mini-storage unit for clips and stickers, and a mug of pencils, pens and markers. I’m trying to keep my office neat. But I’ve added a perpetual calendar next to the Our Lady of Fatima figurine who stands by: Lisa Hendey’s new Catholic Mom’s Desk Calendar.

Flipping to the correct date, I found my very favorite psalm waiting for me, along with a beautiful prayer by Lisa.

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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

As you can see from the photo above, the color scheme is a calming blue, tone-on-tone. I’ve chosen almost that exact shade for more than one room in my home. The serene colors invite the reader to slow down, quiet down, and enter into a moment of prayer.

You don’t have to have a desk to display this prayer calendar. You could keep it on your nightstand, bureau, or even the kitchen counter (though I fear that if I tried that in my tiny kitchen, it would be splattered with marinara sauce in short order).

I have plenty of calendars in my office. I display two months of the calendar at a time, because I need to see that much for work. I have a Google calendar on my computer. And I have a planner on my desk. But this calendar is different. It’s not part of yet another to-do list for my family, my household, or my job. This calendar reminds me that “only one thing is necessary,” as Jesus told St. Martha, and I need to embrace that.

Here’s a sneak peek at January’s calendar entries! Note that this is a spiral-bound perpetual calendar, not a book as pictured below, but you can get a good look at what the beautiful pages look like.

Each day begins with a quote from Scripture, a saint, a pope, or the Catechism, followed by a brief prayer related to that reading.

Place this calendar where you’ll be sure to see it each day, and enter into a quiet moment of prayer in the midst of your busy life.

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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

#OpenBook: October 2017 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

hometown girlHometown Girl by Courtney Walsh. Beth had always dreamed of life in the big city, but she felt bound to a family business after her own business decision left it endangered. She blames herself for her father’s death and won’t forgive herself for her mistake, or tell anyone about it. When her sister Molly buys a local farm with a tragic secret, Beth finds herself caught up in turning the farm back into a tourist destination, with the help of Drew, a young man who has a link to the farm’s decades-old tragedy. He can’t tell anyone about his past either. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and stayed up too late reading it.

just maybeJust Maybe by Crystal Walton. What hooked me on this story right off the bat? Quinn is a magazine editor who just can’t help herself: she corrects people’s grammar under her breath or feels the need to run away when a conversation gets too grammatically off-track. Too funny. Quinn is on assignment to get the dirt on self-made millionaire Cooper Anderson. She wants to succeed with this story, because her job is on the line and she fears her boss, whom she’s nicknamed “Cruella.” But when she shows up at Cooper’s house, she finds him packing to leave the country, putting his home on the market and trying to find a permanent home for the toddler who was just delivered to him after the death of Cooper’s ex: a child he never even knew he had. But Quinn has secrets too: she grew up in that neighborhood and ran away from it several years ago, putting her family’s country ways — and her father’s serious health problems — behind her. A fun story, a clean romance, and characters you can easily enjoy. Well done.

tidbit of trustA Tidbit of Trust by Elizabeth Maddrey. A fun, light read. A contractor and youth pastor runs into a woman from his own parish while on a mission trip to Jamaica. She’s at a local resort, and he knows her reputation — but he’s attracted anyway. Meanwhile, she’s trying to shake off that old reputation and turn her life around, but too many people from church won’t let her make a clean break with her past. (Note: people on the cover are not at all as I pictured them, which is perhaps a good reason to read books on Kindle, where you don’t see cover art.)

woman in cabin 10The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware. Lo Blacklock is a journalist trying to prove herself. On a press junket aboard a newly-launched semprivate boutique cruise ship, she sees and hears something she shouldn’t: a scream — and then a woman goes overboard. Suspense builds as Lo receives anonymous warnings to stop digging for information about what happened; things go missing from her cabin; and she winds up in mortal danger. I’m not entirely sure I bought the ending (then again, I don’t generally read thrillers — this book was a gift) but the book definitely kept me reading.

three godfathersThe Three Godfathers by Peter B. Kyne. I loved this little book. Written a century ago, its style would be perfect for a read-aloud (not for young children, but for grownups — I could picture the adults in a family settling down to enjoy it together after the small children were asleep. The prose was lyrical and carried the reader through the story of The Three Bad Men who, on the run in the southwestern-US desert after the fourth in their number was killed in a bank robbery gone wrong, encounter a young widow in labor — but no water. The dying widow entreats them to be the godfathers of her newborn, and they take this responsibility very seriously. The Three Bad Men are changed spiritually by agreeing to be godfathers for the baby in a wonderful story of sacrifice (and maybe even redemption).

one pink lineOne Pink Line by Dina Silver. At its heart, I found this book to center on selfishness. Even as the reader has to applaud the young college student for keeping her baby when she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, it’s hard to get past the selfish decisions she made that got her there in the first place (cheating on her longtime boyfriend). It’s even harder to get past the fact that she keeps her daughter’s parentage a secret (though there’s a rich grandmother in the picture who only sends gifts to that child, not the younger ones in the family … ). The can of worms opens up when her daughter is at school and learns about conception in biology class — and figures out that her family might not be what she’s always assumed it is.

sweet tea tuesdaysSweet Tea Tuesdays by Ashley Farley. Good friends are hard to find. This novel takes on the crises several friends are experiencing, some of which could cost them their treasured friendship. It seems like a lot for 3 people to go through all at once, and the secrets they keep from each other threaten to tear these friends and neighbors apart. Bring tissues.

 

Nonfiction

forgiving motherForgiving Mother by Marge Fenelon. This book speaks to the heart of those who carry the burden of wounds from the past. Marge’s honesty and courage in sharing the harrowing details of the abuse she suffered from her mother as well as the redeeming power of the relationship she developed with Mary, Mother of God and Mother to us all, will encourage any reader who needs to find healing, forgiveness and hope in a difficult relationship. Read my full review. (ARC received from publisher)

Franciscan saintsThe Franciscan Saints by Robert Ellsburg. The saints in this book come from all walks of life: missionaries, princesses (yes, a princess!), poets, widows, martyrs, reformers, Secular Franciscans, prophets, mystics, stigmatists, and popes. Teens preparing for Confirmation would do well to check out this book; the biographies of each saint are brief (averaging 2 pages) and include a quote (usually a quote from the saint). Read my full review. I enjoyed this peek into the “who’s who of the Franciscan family” and flagged several saints for further study. (ARC received from publisher)

… And with that, I have reached my Goodreads goal of 99 books read in 2017, 2 months ahead of schedule.

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 … and this month, there were some 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 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Forgiving Mother

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Born of a mother-daughter relationship that goes way beyond “it’s complicated,” Marge Steinhage Fenelon’s Forgiving Mother: A Marian Novena of Healing and Peace (new from Servant Books) speaks to the heart of those who carry the burden of wounds from the past.

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I need to state right up front that I have a good relationship with my own mom. But this book about healing touched me deeply — because there are relationships in my life that have been difficult and hurtful, and I’ve hung onto those hurts for too long.

Citing the Gospel story where Jesus heals the blind, crippled man at the Sheep’s Gate (John 5: 2-9), Marge shares this thought that anyone who’s holding onto old hurts can relate to:

Do you want to be made well? Believe it or not, for a very long time, my answer to that question was no. I was afraid of what it would take to be made well, so I preferred to stay just as I was, ignoring my pain and hiding my past. (Chapter 1)

Healing is hard. It takes work. Jesus isn’t going to wave a magic wand and make everything better. We have to want it, and we have to work for it.

Marge’s experience of healing hinged on developing her relationship with the Blessed Mother, noting that

God decides and provides the means by which you eventually can let go of the past, live in the present, and look to the future with hope and confidence. There are two keys to attaining this: trust in God and love of Mary. … Our Lord Jesus Christ is the ultimate healer; he will mend your wounds and restore you to health and vibrancy. Mother Mary will nurture and protect you. In her tender, loving way, she will accompany you each step of the way. She is, and wants to be in every way possible, truly your mother. … [Mary] is anxious to fill the void that has been left in you. She hears—has heard and will hear—your cries of distress, and she anxiously waits to answer them. (Chapter 9)

Marge’s book is a primer on forgiveness. It’s not easy to forgive, especially those hurts we know we’ll never be able to forget. Quoting St. John of the Cross, she notes in Chapter 3 that “the devil can use our memories to gain influence over our souls.”

Healing our hearts, healing our memories, healing our relationships (when possible) is at the heart of this book and the novena prayers accompanying it. The titles of the novena prayers speak to the essence of this book:
Day 1: Lord, give me the grace to want to heal
Day 2: Mary, let me grow closer to you
Day 3: Mary, help me look back
Day 4: Mary, let me see myself as a child of God
Day 5: Mary, let me see my mother as a child of God
Day 6: Mary, let me be transformed in the Spirit
Day 7: Mary, draw me into your heart
Day 8: Mary, let me grow
Day 9: Mary, let me be healed

Marge’s honesty and courage in sharing the harrowing details of the abuse she suffered from her mother as well as the redeeming power of the relationship she developed with Mary, Mother of God and Mother to us all, will encourage any reader who needs to find healing, forgiveness and hope in a difficult relationship. Forgiving Mother is not easy to read. The prayers are not easy to pray — but God’s mercy, freely given, becomes easier to accept as healing begins.


Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book via Netgalley, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Saintly Inspiration for Kids

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November is the Month of the Holy Souls, but it kicks off with All Saint’s Day: a time to celebrate the saints we know by name as well as those whose saintly virtue is less well-known, but no less important to God. This November, encourage your children to learn more about the saints of the Church! Pauline Kids, a division of Pauline Books & Media, has published several books about saints — including one book about how to be a saint!

mary and little shepherds of fatimaLet’s begin with a peek at a book about the child visionaries (two of whom are now saints) of Fatima. Mary and the Little Shepherds of Fatima is a picture book just right for a bedtime story or classroom read-aloud. Written by Sister Marlyn Monge, FSP, and Jaymie Stuart Wolfe, this book recounts the experiences of Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia in 1916 and 1917, when they saw visions first of an angel and then of the Blessed Mother. This sensitive retelling of the Fatima miracles concludes with four pages about prayer, including instructions on praying the rosary, and a parents’ page explaining more about the Fatima visions.  This sweetly-illustrated book is perfect for children in kindergarten through third grade.

mary our motherChildren in this age group will enjoy Mary Our Mother, a coloring and activity book about (you guessed it!) the Blessed Mother. Coloring pages depict the major events in Mary’s life, and are interspered with activities encouraging children to think about their own families and ways they can help others, as well as Bible-trivia activities. My favorite section included coloring pages of apparitions of Our Lady, including Fatima, Aparecida (Brazil), Guadalupe, and others. Prayers such as the Memorare and Magnificat are also featured. I wanted to get some crayons out and color some of these pages!

legend of st christopherOlder readers who are into graphic novels will be thrilled to find graphic novels about saints among Pauline Kids’ offerings. The subjects of the two newest ones are St. Christopher and St. Clare of Assisi. In The Legend of St. Christopher: Quest for a King, Offerus, a young giant known for his great strength, sets off on an adventure that includes an encounter with the devil. When he learns about Jesus, he decides he wants to serve him instead of earthly kings, and is baptized and given the name Christopher. As his life changes, he observes, “God has filled me with joy and peace because I’m serving him by helping others.” Learn about his amazing experience when he encounters a little child in need, and why the Church calls him the “patron of travelers.”

st clare of assisiYou might think that the graphic biography of St. Clare of Assisi doesn’t include dramatic battle scenes. But there’s no lack of suspense when Clare slips away from her childhood home through an ancient tunnel, on her way to follow Francis and embrace a life of poverty. Saint Clare of Assisi: Runaway Rich Girl doesn’t gloss over the episodes of Franciscan lore that include kissing lepers and receiving the stigmata; Clare is included in the scenes of both of these events. And there is a battle scene depicting the Eucharistic miracle where St. Clare, holding the monstrance, defends her holy place and her city from an attack by the Saracens.

how to be a heroI saved my favorite book for last: How to be a Hero. “This book is a training manual,” author Julia Harrell notes in the introduction. The book is organized by virtue, with 11 saints matched up with the four cardinal virtues, three theological virtues, and four “little” virtues. Most, but not all, of the saints featured in this book are more modern-day saints such as St. John Paul II, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Saint Charbel, and Blessed Chiara Badano, though St. Joan of Arc makes an appearance too. In the book’s conclusion, titled “You can be a hero,” the author notes that “there are as many ways to be holy as there are people” and encourages young readers to act virtuously. A Prayer for Virtue and Litany for the Virtues of the Saints round out the book, as does a discussion/journaling section titled “How can I train to be a hero of virtue?” Readers in fourth grade through middle school will enjoy this book.

 


Copyright 2017 Barbara Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: The Other Side of Freedom

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Cynthia T. Toney’s historical novel for teens, The Other Side of Freedom, shows the seamy side of Prohibition-era organized crime from the perspective of a young man whose family becomes its unwitting victims. Finally — good historical fiction that will appeal to male and female readers alike.

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In 1920s Louisiana, Sal struggles with questions of right and wrong as an organized-crime ring forces family members into involvement with bootlegging, with heartbreaking results. Keeping the secret will keep Sal and his parents alive, but is it worth the cost of losing contact with friends and his beloved uncle?

Sal and his best friend Antonina take great risks to uncover the mystery surrounding the crime ring. Aided by Hiram, a young African-American farmhand who faces further obstacles caused by the segregation of the time, Sal and Antonina refuse to be intimidated by the crime ring, even after it becomes evident that the criminals are willing to kill anyone who gets in their way.

One detail in this novel that particularly fascinated me was the presence of Italian immigrants in Louisiana during this time period. I grew up in northern New Jersey, and my own community had a large influx of immigrants from Italy in the early twentieth century. In fact, a local Italian-American family (only two blocks from where I would later live) provided their home as the center of a labor dispute in 1913. I did not know that besides settling in the Northeast (New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey), Italian immigrants also settled in Minnesota, Louisiana, Indiana and California, according to the map found at Italian Immigration to America.

I love how the cover image focuses on the very worried eyes of the young man in this novel. The Other Side of Freedom is highly recommended for middle-school readers and young teens studying this period of American history. This would make a terrific classroom read or summer-reading option.


Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: The Franciscan Saints

In the month when we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (which is actually a solemnity if you’re a professed Franciscan), it’s only fitting to read about some notable figures among his followers. There’s a long list of official Franciscan saints, but author Robert Ellsburg did not limit the selection to canonized saints in his new book The Franciscan Saints (Franciscan Media, 2017).

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I discovered quite a few surprises in the table of contents, noting that the foundresses of several religious orders of women in the nineteenth century were listed: sisters from some of these orders educated members of my own extended family. And once I saw that the table of contents was organized chronologically (by year of death) I immediately went to the back of the book to discover more about contemporary Franciscans notable for their heroic virtue.

Father Mychal Judge, OFM, was listed, of course. The first certified victim of 9/11 died as he ministered to others dying after the attack on the World Trade Center. Judge, like a few of the other figures who died since 2000, has not had his cause for sainthood advanced enough (yet) to be referred to as “Servant of God,” an early step in the canonization process.

Learn more about the process of canonization in this video from Busted Halo:

I was also surprised to learn that St. Roch, to whom many members of my family have had a particular devotion, was a Franciscan. (I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by that; for over 100 years my family attended a parish staffed by Franciscan Friars.) My grandmother had a relic of St. Roch — the first holy relic I had ever seen.

The saints in this book come from all walks of life: missionaries, princesses (yes, a princess!), poets, widows, martyrs, reformers, Secular Franciscans, prophets, mystics, stigmatists, and popes.

This book will be useful when members of my Secular Franciscan fraternity choose patron saints at the beginning of the year. We’ll have quite a few new names to choose from and new saints to get to know.

Teens preparing for Confirmation would do well to check out this book; the biographies of each saint are brief (averaging 2 pages) and include a quote (usually a quote from the saint).

I enjoyed this peek into the “who’s who of the Franciscan family” and flagged several saints for further study. If you like to learn about saints and you’re particularly interested in Franciscans, The Franciscan Saints is an excellent starting point.

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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

#OpenBook: September 2017 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

in the light of the gardenIn the Light of the Garden by Heather Burch. Set on an island on Florida’s Gulf Coast, family secrets come to the fore when Charity Baxter inherits her grandfather’s estate and moves to the island to continue his work making custom pottery. Her return to the island reawakens a twenty-year-old burden of guilt about the death of her grandmother. Charity’s neighbor Dalton battles heartbreak of his own, and the meaning of family and the destructive power of long-held secrets are revealed. An excellent story.

dancing with firefliesDancing with Fireflies by Denise Hunter. I couldn’t even tell this book was the second in a series — it’s that well done. Pregnant after date rape, Jade returns to the hometown she’d hoped to leave behind, but she doesn’t feel she can trust her family or neighbors with her secret. Complicating matters is the town’s mayor, a young man who always had a crush on Jade, and whose love she doesn’t feel she’s worthy of.

loves vowLove’s Vow by Melissa Storm. This novella concludes the story of Summer and Ben’s whirlwind romance. When all the little things and some of the big things go wrong as their wedding day approaches, Summer and Ben will need the help of the whole town if they want to get married. I enjoyed reading more about the characters in the “First Street Church” series, including the Kindle Worlds series written by other authors about the same small town.

something like familySomething Like Family by Heather Burch. Abandoned as a teenager by his drug-addicted mother, Rave finds himself entangled with an adrift single mom because he doesn’t want the same thing to happen to her son. When he’s notified that the grandfather he thought was dead is very much alive and wants to meet him, Rave returns to his mother’s home town to seek the family ties he never had — but that little boy is never far from his thoughts. A beautiful story of family, community and devotion.

black narcissusBlack Narcissus by Rumer Godden. When an order of Sisters is given an estate on a mountain in the Himalayas in order to build a school and medical clinic, they must battle temptations of all kinds as they struggle to survive in a new culture and climate. This was a really disturbing story, but that didn’t come without warning. It was noted right at the beginning the the location would be enough to unsettle anyone.

Children’s/YA

PlayingbyHeart coverPlaying by Heart by Carmela Martino. Set in 18th-century Milan, Playing by Heart is a symphony of romance and faith with an undercurrent of social commentary. Will Maria and Emilia’s father sacrifice their futures on the altar of his own ambitions to join the noble class? Carmela Martino’s new novel for teen readers explores family ties, vocations, and discernment of the best ways to use God-given gifts. Cue up some Vivaldi or Pachelbel and settle in for an intriguing tale. Read my full review. (ARC provided by author)

standing strongStanding Strong by Theresa Linden. Continuing the series she began with Roland West, Loner and continued with two more novels, Linden’s next novel about the West brothers centers on Roland’s two older brothers, who are twins but as opposite as can be. While Jarret works to figure out how to move forward after a life-changing experience (described in Battle for His Soul, which you really need to read before you read this), his twin has a struggle of his own as he discerns whether to join the Franciscan brothers. It’s not easy to reinvent yourself while you’re still in high school, as Jarret West discovers as he seeks a way to turn his life around after an intense spiritual experience. His twin brother couldn’t be more different: Keefe contemplates joining the Franciscan friars. Theresa Linden recounts twin spiritual quests in her newest novel. (ARC provided by author)

Nonfiction

super girls and halosSuper Girls and Halos by Maria Morera Johnson (Ave Maria Press). I love that Maria Morera Johnson began her new book, Super Girls and Halos (Ave Maria Press, 2017), with a quote from the only superhero movie I ever liked: The Incredibles. Mrs. Incredible is probably the first “supergirl” I could relate to. She’s a mom. She worries about her family. She’s the most real superhero I’ve encountered. Maria found a way to show the human side of superheros and saints without diluting their extraordinary virtues. Read my interview with the author. (ARC provided by publisher)

igniteIgnite: Read the Bible like Never Before by Sonja Corbitt and Deacon Harold Burke-Silvers (Servant Books). This book challenges both individuals and groups to try reading the Bible. Acknowledging that many faithful people try reading the Bible but are daunted by dry and difficult readings and commentaries, Sonja and Deacon Harold share some strategies that work for them, setting up a Lectio-Divina-based study structure that can include technological resources such as Bible apps, online daily readings, and print or audio resources. Read my full review. (ARC provided by publisher)

st faustina book conversionTwo Saint Faustina prayer books: Susan Tassone’s “St. Faustina Prayer Book” series focuses the power of intercessory prayer on two great needs: the Holy Souls in Purgatory and the conversion of sinners. The St. Faustina Prayer Book for the Conversion of Sinners and The Saint Faustina Prayer Book for the Holy Souls in Purgatory contain more than prayers. st faustina book holy soulsYou’ll also find essays on conversion, sin, penance, Purgatory and the spirituality of St. Faustina Kowalska. Organized by theme, the books lead the reader through learning and devotions. Read my full review. (ARC provided by publisher)

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!

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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Playing by Heart

Barb's Book shelf blog title

Set in 18th-century Milan, Playing by Heart is a symphony of romance and faith with an undercurrent of social commentary. Will Maria and Emilia’s father sacrifice their futures on the altar of his own ambitions to join the noble class? Carmela Martino’s new novel for teen readers explores family ties, vocations, and discernment of the best ways to use God-given gifts. Cue up some Vivaldi or Pachelbel and settle in for an intriguing tale.

PlayingbyHeart cover

This historical novel is based on the lives of two sisters, Maria Gaetana Agnesi and Maria Teresa Agnesi, who were gifted in much the same ways as the characters Maria and Emilia are. In the novel, Maria is deeply religious; her only desire is to enter a convent so she can work to serve the poor. But her father is unwilling to give up the social advantages he believes he can gain by showing off Maria’s abilities in languages and mathematics, as well as her younger sister Emilia’s musical talents. Carmela created a website that explains more about the life of the extraordinary Agnesi sisters.

While you’d expect that the spiritual elements of Playing by Heart would center on older sister Maria’s vocation to the religious life, this is not the case. I was surprised, as a reader, to see how much Emilia’s own spiritual life enters into the story. Throughout the novel, Emilia struggles with knowing the will of God for her life, with accepting tragedies that happen to her family, and with her realization that she is being called to make a sacrificial choice for the good of the sister she deeply loves.

Playing by Heart is written for a YA audience; I’d recommend it for readers in high school and up. I’d recommend it for adult readers as well. The story is intriguing and beautifully told, and really invites the reader into the world of the social climber in 18th-century Milan. This novel is a clean romance, steeped in history.

Celebrate the launch of this book!

Book review: Playing by Heart with Carmela Martino (Franciscanmom.com)
Courtesy of Carmela Martino. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Beginning Friday, Oct. 6, Carmela will be celebrating the release of Playing by Heart with a blog tour. You’re invited to visit her website for links to all the tour stops and enter for a chance to win a copy of the novel.

Carmela also plans a Facebook Launch Party on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 7-9 p.m. Central Time, where readers can win not only copies of Playing by Heart but other great books and prizes. Sign up to join the party!


Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.