On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

This Advent, Memento Mori

If you’ve ever found it a bit puzzling to listen to Advent readings at Mass and hear so much about the Four Last Things (death, judgment, hell, and heaven), Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP’s latest devotional is for you. Memento Mori: An Advent Companion on the Last Things is based on the daily Mass readings for Advent (the Gospel is included, and you can find the rest on the USCCB website or look up in your Bible as you go along; references are provided). Each day’s entry contains a meditation on the daily readings, inspiration from a saint, and questions for journaling and prayer. Space for journaling is not provided each day, so you’ll need a separate journal or notebook for that.

A few years ago, Sr. Theresa Aletheia began a devotional practice that used to be fairly commonplace, but is much less so in the 21st century: she put a skull on her desk. Every day, she tweeted a spiritual observation about the Last Things — observations that resulted from this practice, using the hashtag #mementomori. This turned out to be so popular on social media that Pauline Books & Media published several devotionals and journals by Sr. Theresa Aletheia. Her author bio reads, in part, “Meditating on her death daily has changed her life and led to greater union with God.”

This devotional will help you remember that in Advent, we don’t only recall the Incarnation — Christ coming into the world as a baby — but we look ahead to the coming of Christ at the end of the ages. And we anticipate in hope our own entrance into new life with Christ.

Advent would mean nothing if Jesus did not come to save us from death, humanity’s most intimidating enemy and impossible adversary. (3)



The Advent Companion is divided into four sections to correspond with the four weeks of Advent. Each section focuses on one of the Four Last Things. There is also an entry for Christmas Day and an appendix with a daily Memento Mori examination of conscience.

This Advent devotional can be used in any year, so if you find that you’re not able to focus on each day’s entry, you can save it and use it for your prayer time next year. Each day’s entry includes a beautiful full-color illustration, either by contemporary Catholic artists (who are credited in a banner next to the art with their website or social media information) or sacred art in the public domain. The art, in a variety of styles, will have wide appeal. The book’s design was done by Sr. Danielle Victoria Lussier, FSP, who also created the illustration of the skull on the cover.



If you’re not keen on the idea of keeping an actual skull on your desk, the Memento Mori: Remember Your Death and Live for Heaven daily desk calendar is the perfect alternative. Its design is simple and beautiful, with the same skull design as the Advent Companion on each day’s page. The font for the reflections is easy to read, and the presentation is very eye-catching but not at all garish. Some of the daily reflections are written by Sr. Theresa Aletheia; others come from Scripture and the wisdom of the saints.

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.

This article contains Amazon links, which provide a small commission on any purchase made, but at no cost to you.

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

For Your Advent Reading Pleasure: Grace in Tension

Advent is a busy time for moms. Advent is a time when we can definitely give in to that temptation to be “anxious and worried about many things” — after all, we’re usually the ones who take care of all those details that make our family’s Advent and Christmas celebrations meaningful and special. That means we’re often taking on too much, and midway through Advent finding ourselves nowhere near that ideal of peaceful, intentional preparation.
It’s good, during Advent, to take a little time for ourselves and use the techniques Claire McGarry shares in Grace in Tension to acknowledge our feelings, make an effort to view the situation through God’s eyes, and take action to scale back, even in small ways, so this holy season doesn’t become an unholy frenzy.
Grace in Tension

Why I love this book:

For Catholic women who, like me, deeply identify with Martha in her worry and distraction, Claire’s balanced discussion of how busy women can learn to sit at the feet of Jesus is both a challenge and a gift. Learn to find the grace amid your daily cares and burdens.

When we think about the story of Mary and Martha, it’s very easy to fall into the “Martha bad, Mary good” trap. Claire does not do that in Grace in Tension (and that’s why I’m reading the book for a second time).

When Mary chooses to sit at Jesus’ feet while Martha chooses to serve, I think initially Jesus approves. He knows both decisions are made with the sisters’ hearts. Each sister is living out her “better part” by drawing closer to God with her choice. It’s clear that sitting and listening to all that Jesus has to say definitely brings Mary closer to God. After all, Jesus affirms her choice by calling it “the better part.” Yet choosing to serve Jesus as Martha does can bring her closer to God too. There’s a sacrifice that comes from serving and a beauty in putting others’ needs before our own. Both paths lead straight to God. Martha’s problem isn’t that she chooses to serve. It’s that she eventually compares her choice with her sister’s. (67)


It’s not highly likely that I’ll be able to change my natural Martha tendencies. Cooking for my family and our guests is a big part of how I show my love. And over the years, I am happy to report that I have mellowed, so my family doesn’t have to live with Screaming Meemie Party Mom (yes, I’ve been called that and yes, I’m 100% guilty) every time company is expected.

I probably can’t change my tendencies, but as Claire encourages readers of Grace in Tension, I can — and should — derail the anxiety and worry that I often allow to carry me away from the joy of the moment. By taking steps like choosing a new response, drawing healthy boundaries, asking for help (and accepting it without judging), and adjusting expectations, in addition to the 10 other steps Claire outlines in this book, I can find the gifts God has for me in the moments where He has placed me.

Advent is a time to sit at God’s feet. And it’s usually a time when we wrap gifts. This Advent, unwrap God’s gift to you: the grace within your tension and the transformation of your heart and mind.

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz

This article contains Amazon links. Your purchase using these links provides a small bonus to me at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support.

Open book autumn

An Open Book: October 2021 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:


Jennifer the Damned by Karen Ullo. This is not at all the kind of book I usually read. I don’t touch horror or vampire fiction at all. It is a testament to Karen Ullo’s skill as a writer that I stuck with this book beyond the first 2 chapters – and more than that, couldn’t wait to keep reading. Normally I think of horror books as about as anti-Catholic as they can be, with religion either anathema or afterthought or, at best, superstition. But this is a very, very Catholic book, dealing with themes of conscience, our immortal souls, and the overarching power of the sacraments. The many sides of the title character are well explored: Jennifer as vampire, Jennifer as teenager trying to fit into that world, Jennifer as a child abandoned by her mother (and clearly traumatized by the facts of her own situation and what her mother has taught her), Jennifer as a young woman raised in a convent by religious sisters who don’t know the whole story.

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan. A World War II novel of the British home front. This book really brought home the kinds of deprivations citizens of the UK suffered during the war. Two sisters, a servant, and a professional chef compete for the opportunity to host a radio show helping homemakers work around food shortages and serve nutritious and good-tasting food to their family. All of them face threats to their way of life, and their stories intertwine in interesting and surprising ways. The book includes recipes, but except for the scones, I’ll pass (sheep’s head roll? no way). This was an enjoyable story, with an ending you won’t see coming.

A Freedom Such as Heaven Intended by Amanda Lauer. The latest “Heaven Intended” book, set in the same timeline as A Life Such as Heaven Intended, follows a group of runaway slaves as they begin a perilous and uncertain journey to freedom. Plenty of historical detail leaves the reader immersed in the world of Civil War-era Georgia, as characters struggle to discern whether to risk their lives in the service of others. Faith plays a role, in often surprising ways, in the twists and turns of the plot of this compelling novel. (Advance copy provided by the author.)

A Song for the Road by Kathleen M. Basi. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel where I’ve identified so deeply with a character as I did with Miriam Tedesco, who undertook a cross-country road trip a year after the death of her husband and their twin teenagers in order to handle some unfinished business that was deepening her grief. It wasn’t so much Miriam’s circumstances as it was her personality that I related to: she reacted to things in much the same way I do. Along the way, Miriam encountered a young pregnant woman traveling alone and clearly hiding a medical secret. Outside of a few misses in the Catholic details (Miriam was the music director at a Catholic church) this was a flawless read.

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline. A young woman, physically handicapped due to a mysterious childhood illness (rheumatic fever or polio?), lives in an isolated area of coastal Maine. Artist Andrew Wyeth used her as the inspiration for a famous painting, as she hosted him in the summer for two entire decades, even as her own isolation and physical limitations made the scope of her world no larger than her own living room. This is the kind of book you wish would go on forever – and at 352 pages, it’s good and long already – perfect for a long winter’s read!

The Fault Between Us by Bette Lee Crosby. Historical fiction about the San Francisco Earthquake. Templeton, a driven young woman from Philadelphia who wants nothing more than to create her own fashion line, has a whirlwind romance with a man from California, who marries her and brings her to his grand home in San Francisco. Templeton throws herself into fulfilling her professional ambitions, leaving ideas about family life to the side until tragedy strikes: while she is back in Philadelphia visiting family and experiencing a complicated pregnancy, the earthquake devastates her neighborhood, and her father makes a perilous journey to California to try to find Templeton’s husband. I couldn’t put this one down.



Dare to be MoreDare to be More: The Witness of Blessed Carlo Acutis by Colleen and Matt Swaim. The 48-page book contains photos of Carlo Acutis throughout his life: as a young child, in kindergarten, building a snowman, praying in an Adoration chapel, and even with his puppy and his soccer team. The book, appropriate for readers 10 and up, discusses the many ways this teenager changed others’ lives for the better. The Swaims explain the Church’s process of declaring someone a saint and describe the miraculous healing of a child in Brazil, healing that has been attributed to the intercession of Carlo Acutis. This led to Acutis’ beatification in October 2020. (Advance copy received from publisher. Read my full review.)



Saintly Moms: 25 Stories of Holiness by Kelly Ann Guest. Moms need friends to inspire us in our vocation, no matter what our stage of motherhood. Kelly Guest’s book introduces you to 25 saintly friends to encourage you in the challenges of parenting. Meet a new holy BFF, and gain a fresh perspective on familiar motherly saints. Saints highlighted in this book include the Blessed Mother, St. Monica, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Rita of Cascia, Venerable Margaret Bosco, St. Gianna Molla, and more, and for the most part are arranged in chronological order. (Advance copy received from publisher; full review coming soon.)


Behold the Handmaid of the Lord: A 10-Day Personal Retreat with St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary simplifies de Montfort’s approach without watering down its wisdom. The book, new from Ave Maria Press, is a do-it-yourself retreat that helps readers learn more about Marian consecration. Fr. Edward Looney dedicates each of the ten days of the retreat to a different title of Mary, consolidating teachings from True Devotion to Mary to clarify the rich writings and deepen devotion to the Blessed Mother. His writing style is clear and approachable, and both his scholarship and dedication to Mary are evident throughout the book. Each day’s chapter is 10 pages or less (in a small-format book; it measures just under 5×7 inches) and begins with a teaching on that day’s title of Mary, a prayer for the day, and a traditional Marian prayer or hymn. (Advance copy received from publisher. Read my full review.)


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

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

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

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

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewcz

Image: Stencil Pro

statue of Blessed Virgin Mary with Baby Jesus

A Simpler Approach to Marian Consecration

Do you want to grow closer to the Blessed Mother, but find yourself intimidated by the lengthy devotions and lofty language of St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary?  Fr. Edward Looney, a priest of the Diocese of Green Bay and vice president of the Mariological Society of America, has put together a new book to help you prepare for a 33-day consecration to Jesus through Mary.


Behold the Handmaid of the Lord


Behold the Handmaid of the Lord: A 10-Day Personal Retreat with St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary simplifies de Montfort’s approach without watering down its wisdom. The book, new from Ave Maria Press, is a do-it-yourself retreat that helps readers learn more about Marian consecration.

God is at work through Marian consecration; it is powerful, and it changes lives. (xv)

Fr. Edward dedicates each of the ten days of the retreat to a different title of Mary, consolidating teachings from True Devotion to Mary to clarify the rich writings and deepen devotion to the Blessed Mother. His writing style is clear and approachable, and both his scholarship and dedication to Mary are evident throughout the book.

Each day’s chapter is 10 pages or less (in a small-format book; it measures just under 5×7 inches) and begins with a teaching on that day’s title of Mary, a prayer for the day, and a traditional Marian prayer or hymn. I was surprised to find that Serdeczna Matko (“Stainless the Maiden”), a traditional Polish Marian hymn I recently sang at a funeral at my parish, was one of the hymns included in the book. Its English translation, which I had never read, is beautiful. Other prayers and hymns include the Memorare, Regina Caeli, and “Ave Maris Stella.”

During this retreat, readers will learn about these Marian titles and devotions:

  • Queen of All Saints
  • Our Lady of the Holy Trinity
  • The New Eve
  • Mother of the Interior Life
  • Mother of Disciples
  • Star of the Sea
  • Queen of All Hearts
  • Mediatrix of Grace
  • The Mold of God
  • My Mother and My Queen

I recommend that you keep a pen and journal close at hand as you read Behold the Handmaid of the Lord. I was highlighting this book all over the place as I read!

Bonus material in this book includes a chart of dates to begin Marian consecrations to end on feasts of Mary. The next three start dates are November 5, November 9, and November 29. Another very useful section is a list of 17 devotional practices found in the writings of St. Louis de Montfort. Many of these are practices you can begin with your family, such as praying the Rosary, carrying a Rosary in your pocket, praying or singing prayers and hymns in Mary’s honor, and placing an image of Mary in a place of honor in your home.

Fr. Edward Looney has written several books about Mary and frequently posts on social media about his visits to Marian shrines throughout the United States. Listen to his How They Love Mary podcast on Spotify or your favorite podcast app.

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image: Stencil
This article contains Amazon affiliate links, which provide a small compensation to the author of this piece when purchases are made through the links, at no cost to you.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

Dare to Be More: Introduce Your Kids to Blessed Carlo Acutis

Do your kids know about the millennial who’s on the path to sainthood? Carlo Acutis, whose feast day we celebrate today, was born in 1991 and only lived to the age of 15, but in that time he made an extraordinary impact on the world — through the internet. Colleen and Matt Swaim tell the story of Carlo’s work on a website that displays information about eucharistic miracles in their new book, Dare to Be More: The Witness of Blessed Carlo Acutis.

Dare to be More


The 48-page book contains photos of Carlo Acutis throughout his life: as a young child, in kindergarten, building a snowman, praying in an Adoration chapel, and even with his puppy and his soccer team. The book, appropriate for readers 10 and up, discusses the many ways this teenager changed others’ lives for the better. The Swaims explain the Church’s process of declaring someone a saint and describe the miraculous healing of a child in Brazil, healing that has been attributed to the intercession of Carlo Acutis. This led to Acutis’ beatification in October 2020.

Dare to Be More is much more than a biography. On every two-page spread, readers will find websites to visit, Scripture verses to memorize, or questions for journaling, reflection, or group discussion. Each chapter ends with Saintly Challenges: small actions related to the concepts presented in that chapter. These challenges as chapter divisions make this biography easy to read a bit at a time and focus the reader on relating aspects of his or her own life to Acutis’. Dare to Be More would be an excellent gift for a teen preparing for Confirmation.

Dare to Be More: The Witness of Blessed Carlo Acutis is available from Liguori.org and on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image created with Visme using a photo by Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.
This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author. 

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

New in Catholic Fiction: In Pieces

In this richly detailed post-Revolutionary War love story, Rhonda Ortiz transports the reader to 18th-century Boston. Molly Chase, the beautiful and talented only child of a prominent Boston fabric merchant, suffers nightmares and other mental-health challenges after discovering her father’s body following his suicide. Her family’s former servant, Mrs. Robb, takes her in, but the church ladies find much to gossip about when Mrs. Robb’s young son, Josiah, who’s as close to Molly as a brother, returns to the city from a long sailing journey. And they won’t let up, even though Josiah isn’t even staying in the house.

In Pieces by Rhonda Ortiz


With no parents, no husband, and no means of support, Molly decides to turn her hobby into a (literal) cottage industry and uses fabric from her father’s warehouse to start her own business as a dressmaker. Mrs. Robb’s small home, owned by her son, suddenly houses Molly, Mrs. Robb, Josiah’s sister Deborah, and enough cloth to dress half the fashionable young women in Boston. And those young women make fascinating characters in their own right, as does Mrs. Robb.

Readers will cheer for the strong female characters and the smitten, determined hero who battle rigid social expectations and a villain you’ll love to hate. An “oh, no, he didn’t!” King David-style conflict, a Custom-House mystery, some PTSD, and even a little espionage make In Pieces a novel you won’t be able to put down. There’s even a cameo by Alexander Hamilton!



I called this book Catholic fiction, but you’ll discover in the reading that Molly is actually a member of Old North Church, an Episcopal assembly, and Josiah and his family belong to Old South Church, a Congregational church. But Josiah has friends who are Catholic, and his studies of theology are leading him closer to the Catholic church than his mother, the daughter of a minister, might like. We’ll have to wait until another book in the series to find out how this plays out, but this is not one of those annoying novels that ends on a cliffhanger; it’s a satisfying story all on its own.

I’ve read In Pieces twice already, and chances are good I’ll read it again.



In Pieces is published by Chrism Press, an imprint of WhiteFire Publishing dedicated to stories informed by Catholic and Orthodox Christianity.

About the author: Rhonda Ortiz is an award-winning novelist, nonfiction writer, and editor. A native Oregonian, she attended St. John’s College in historic Annapolis, Maryland and now lives in Michigan with her husband and five children. Find her online at RhondaOrtiz.com.

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images copyright 2021 Rhonda Ortiz, all rights reserved, used with permission.
Amazon links in this article are affiliate links; your purchases benefit the author.
I received an advance copy of this book for the purpose of this review.

Advent wreath

Advent Resources for You and your Family

Don’t think for one second that it’s too early to plan for Advent. With the current news of paper shortages and shipping delays, the time to purchase what you’ll need for Advent (and Christmas, really) is now. I had the opportunity to peek at two new Advent resources: one for adults, and one for the whole family.

For the Family

Catholic Mom contributor Emily Jaminet’s booklet, On the Way to Bethlehem: Advent Daily Devotions for Families, is great for families with preschoolers on up. A QR code on the back of the booklet takes you to a website where you can download coloring and activity pages. There is not a printable page for every day, but there are 21 in all, including a day-by-day tracker. Your children can color or add a sticker to each day’s square as your family prays together that day. There is also an Advent Wreath coloring page with instructions to color one candle each Sunday. This extra resource is a great value for families because it’s easy to print enough coloring or activity pages for each child to have one.

My favorite part about this booklet is the call to action. Each day, there is a themed call to action that individuals or families can do. These correspond to the four themes of Advent: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. Emily also includes suggestions for parents to talk with their children about topics such as Heaven, trusting in God, and loving others when that seems difficult. On the Way to Bethlehem is available for Kindle and in print from Creative Communications for the ParishPrint copies are only 99 cents when you purchase two or more, and bulk discounts are available.

For you

Ave Maria Press has published a beautiful new Advent prayer journal by Fr. John Burns and illustrated by Valerie Delgado. Adore: A Guided Advent Journal for Prayer and Meditation is such a beautiful book, I could hardly resist the temptation to grab my favorite pen and start using it right now.

Adore is organized into four weekly themes: watchfulness, preparation, nearness, and Emmanuel. Each day’s section contains four parts: a quotation from Scripture, a saint, or a great teacher; Fr. John Burns’ meditation, space to reflect along with journal prompts based on that meditation, and a closing prayer.

The book’s design is spare and uncluttered, with a different color palette for headings, quotations, and prayers each week. To begin the week, a beautiful painting by Valerie Delgado spans a two-page spread. You won’t want to stop looking at this lovely art!

There’s a free leader’s guide available from Ave Maria Press if you’d like to use Adore with your family, prayer group, or even your whole parish. Each week, you can get free access to the author’s video series. Adore is available in ebook and print format. The print version is priced at $10.95, with discounts available for purchases of 10 copies or more.


I previewed several other Advent resources this year which are Christian but not Catholic. Those haven’t been included in this article because they are set up on an “Advent has 24 days” model, and that’s not the way the Church works. For Catholics, Advent has four Sundays before Christmas. It can actually have as few as 22 days, in years when Christmas falls on a Monday – or as many as 29 days, as it will in 2022 when Christmas falls on a Sunday. For some materials, that doesn’t matter; it really depends on the individual resource, so check things like that carefully when you purchase such resources.

Advent resources are often evergreen, so if you’d like to check out some items I’ve reviewed in the past, last year I had a list of 10 books and booklets you can try. Visit Prepare the Way: Advent Prayer Resources to learn more.

Finally: it’s not too early to purchase your Advent candles! Visit your local Catholic shop or order them online now, and put them in a place where you won’t forget them come November 28. I suggest you store them inside your turkey roaster, if you’re hosting Thanksgiving this year!

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image: Stencil
This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author. 

Four Fall Reads for Kids and Teens

Are your kids looking for some new reading material? You can count on the content of these four new books to be fascinating and faithfully Catholic. They’re listed in order from youngest to oldest audience. Three of these books are parts of series, but thanks to their skillful authors, readers can jump right into the stories (though they’ll probably want to catch up on the rest after reading one).


The Case of the Campground Creature: Sisters of the Last Straw #7

I will never miss a chance to read an installment of the Sisters of the Last Straw series by Karen Kelly Boyce (TAN Books). Written for young readers age 6 to 12, the characters in these chapter books form a community of religious sisters who struggle, not always successfully (but always hilariously), with bad habits. Even though they don’t succeed all the time, they do try to be patient with their own faults and those of others, and to help and encourage each other along the way.


Sisters of the Last Straw book 7


In The Case of the Campground Creature, the Sisters are given a camper and decide to take a much-needed vacation. When the camper breaks down on the way to their destination, they’re towed to a new campground while the repair shop waits for parts to fix the camper. But the new campground isn’t as welcoming as it seems at first: dark woods, strange noises, and a mysterious creature frighten the Sisters, most of whom have never camped before.

You don’t have to read the books in this series in order. The Case of the Campground Creature would make a fun family (or classroom) read-aloud, especially at this time of year since the book has a spooky (but not too scary) theme.


Lucia of Fatima: Brave Hearts #3

Lucia of Fatima by Catholic Mom contributor Kathryn Griffin Swegart is an excellent introduction to the story of the apparitions at Fatima. It is the third book in a series of children’s books about courageous Catholics whose faith changed their lives in extraordinary ways.



Told from the point of view of Lucia, who was 10 years old when the Blessed Mother first appeared to her and her younger cousins at Fatima, this historical novel gives readers a look into what it was like for the young visionary and how her life was changed afterward. The author, a gifted storyteller, skillfully portrayed each scene. The story brings home the message that you are never too young to follow God’s call. Lucia of Fatima is written for ages 10 and up, but would be a good read-aloud for age 7 and up.


The Fire of Eden: The Harwood Mysteries #3

Antony Kolenc’s third book in The Harwood Mysteries series of historical novels for readers 10 and up is a suspenseful novel set in 12th-century England (Loyola Press). The Fire of Eden continues the story of Xan, a teenage orphan who lives with other orphans at a monastery. Parents and teachers will appreciate the 2-page readers guide, “How to read historical fiction,” at the front of the book, and the author has also provided a map of Xan’s world, a glossary of religious and historical terms, and an author’s historical note that explains Church and feudal practices of that time and place.



In The Fire of Eden, an accident causes John, who’s been Xan’s nemesis in the monastery for quite some time, to lose his sight. Angry at his sudden dependence on those around him, John is more cruel than ever, but Xan is forced to cooperate with him as they seek to solve the mystery of a missing precious ruby belonging to a young monk who’s about to be ordained to the priesthood. Along the way, they encounter dishonest monks, traitorous guards, and a frightening magician who lives in the woods. (This novel would make a very exciting movie!)


In the Palace of the Great King

Julie Ash’s novel for middle-school readers and up follows two young girls as they try to make sense of their place in the world and God’s place in their hearts. In the Palace of the Great King explores themes of religious vocation, teenage pregnancy, poverty’s effects on the family, and the call to conversion.



Three teens from two very different backgrounds meet when they take shelter in an urban church during a terrible storm. Char, who lives in the shadow of her younger sister Kayla, feels overcome by loneliness; Tia is overwhelmed by school, her job, and caring for her little brother when the adults in her life are unable to watch him after school. All three are changed after they stumble into that church, with Char struggling to make sense of her mother’s violent objections to religion and the prolife movement, and Tia wondering if God is calling her to join the community of nuns who welcomed the girls during the storm. Currently In the Palace of the Great King is available only on Kindle; a bound version is due out later this year.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
I received review copies of each of these books, and no other compensation, from the publisher or author. Opinions expressed here are my own.
This article contains Amazon affiliate links.

statue of angel

New from Magnificat: Nine Days with Saint Michael

We celebrate the Feast of Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Rafael on September 29. This is the perfect time to begin a novena to the original prayer warrior, St. Michael the Archangel. Magnificat has just released Nine Days with Saint Michael, a beautiful novena of prayers for spiritual protection.

It takes a spiritual battle to be good, a battle we fight with Heaven’s help. (4)


Nine Days with Saint Michael

The prayers and meditations for each of the nine days focus on one aspect of St. Michael the Archangel, from his name meaning “Who is like God?” to his dignity as an archangel and Prince of the Heavenly Host, to his rebuke of the devil and affirmation of his own promise to serve God always, to his heavenly worship and the battle against the dragon (as detailed in Revelation), to his service of God at the time of our judgment.

Each day’s novena entry is structured as follows:

  • Sacred art
  • Introduction
  • Hymn
  • Scripture (the reading is included in full, so you won’t need to juggle your prayer book and Bible)
  • Meditation
  • Intercession: entrust St. Michael to bring your special intention to God at this time
  • Our Father
  • Intercession of Mary, Queen of Angels
  • Closing Prayer
  • St. Michael Prayer

Bonus content in this book includes the Litany of St. Michael and the Chaplet of St. Michael, so this book will be handy to keep around long after you finish praying the novena.

The print edition of Nine Days with Saint Michael is a lovely little book, with heavy, glossy paper that complements the sacred art (a different artist’s depiction of St. Michael, in worship and in battle, accompanies the meditation for each day). It’s a good value for the $5.99 cover price. An interior view is pictured below.


interior spread from Nine Days with Saint Michael


Nine Days with Saint Michael is available at Magnificat.com. Bulk pricing is available. A Kindle version is available on Amazon.

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images: Canva; Magnificat.com, all rights reserved.
This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author.

Back-to-School Special: Amy Cattapan’s New Book for Teachers

Just in time for the beginning of the school year, Ave Maria Press has released Amy J. Cattapan’s first nonfiction book, Sweet Jesus, Is It June Yet? 10 Ways the Gospels Can Help You Combat Teacher Burnout and Rediscover Your Passion for TeachingWritten for new and veteran teachers alike, this book is the perfect read at the beginning of the school year, offering Bible-based strategies teachers can use to battle discouragement, stress, and burnout.


As a fellow member and volunteer for the Catholic Writers Guild, I’ve known Amy for several years. She’s a middle-school teacher and author of two novels for middle- and high-school students, a Dame of Malta, an avid runner, and (in her free time?) recently completed an Ed.D. This summer, Amy organized the Catholic Writers Guild conference, a hybrid event with in-person and online speakers and attendees. Amy also hosts a YouTube channel featuring the “Cath-Lit Live!” video series, in which she interviews Catholic authors about their newly released books. Amy is energetic (as you can see from this list of accomplishments) and always ready to share what she’s learned with others. You can learn more about her work at AJCattapan.com



It was my pleasure to interview Amy about her newest book.

Is Sweet Jesus, Is It June Yet? for Catholic school teachers only?

The initial audience for the book was Catholic school teachers, but I’ve found that DREs and catechists are also relating to it, as well as other Christians who work in education. Basically, anyone who reads the Bible and does some kind of teaching can appreciate the connections between the Gospel stories and the work that they do.


How can homeschooling moms (or dads) benefit from this book?

Homeschooling parents can benefit in much the same ways that classroom teachers and catechists do. It can help them to focus on why they decided to homeschool in the first place, as well as find guidance for how Jesus can be a role model for them as educators as well.


What’s your advice for teachers who feel that admitting feelings of teacher burnout means that they’re not good teachers?

Even people who love their jobs and are very successful often go through periods of burnout. This is why we need to take breaks from our work and then come back refreshed. Feeling burned out is a normal reaction to caring about the job you do. If we are feeling burned out, it’s an indication that we’ve been pouring out heart and soul into the job. While it’s great that so many teachers care so much about doing a great job, we also need to remember that it’s necessary to step back and “fill our own cups” whenever we feeling like we are running on empty. Don’t forget how many times Jesus had to go away to a quiet place! If He needed rest and quiet, then so do we!


In one of my favorite chapters, “Jesus Knew When (and How Far) to Bend the Rules,” you mention the destructive power of negative attitudes. When I was teaching, I stopped eating lunch in the teachers’ lounge because of the negative attitudes among some other teachers. While I cut myself off from the cynicism, I also missed opportunities for sharing ideas and getting help. Is there a better way to handle that kind of situation?

Excellent question! I know many teachers who avoid the lounge; sometimes it is necessary to do that. However, that shouldn’t mean we isolate ourselves entirely. Try to find the coworkers with whom you can have constructive conversations. Seek out times that you are free, and make a point of connecting with that person(s) regularly — perhaps during a mutual planning period or even a few minutes before or after school. Also find ways to connect with teachers outside of your own school. For example, go to teacher conferences, talk to friends who are teachers at other schools, and participate in informal professional development opportunities, like the #CatholicEdChat discussions that happen on Twitter the first and third Saturdays of each month.


It’s providential that your book has been released just as teachers are beginning a second full school year with the challenges of pandemic restrictions. Which chapter would you recommend to teachers who are feeling anxious about this?

I would recommend chapters 8 and 10. Chapter 8 is called “Jesus Took Challenges in Stride.” We’ve had a lot of challenges over the last 18 months. Jesus can teach us how to handle them with grace. Chapter 10 is called “Jesus Knew When to Stop and Just Let It Be.” There is so much we can’t control during a pandemic. Jesus can show us how to let go of unrealistic expectations and focus on what we can do.

This book makes a great teacher gift!

Sweet Jesus, Is It June Yet? is available from the publisher, Ave Maria Press, on Amazon, and wherever you purchase Catholic books. If you’re interested in ordering multiple books for all your kids’ teachers, contact Amy about a discount code for bulk orders! (Don’t wait until Christmas to share this book with the teachers you know. They need it now.)

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Author photo courtesy of Amy J. Cattapan
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book by the publisher, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.