#OpenBook: Fall 2019 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 in September and October:

Fiction

All in Good TimeAll in Good Time by Carolyn Astfalk

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Carolyn Astfalk’s novel is packed with relatable characters who aren’t too good to be true, and that’s refreshing in the world of romance novels, where everyone’s young, successful, and great-looking. These characters struggle, and their kids make messes, so it all feels true to life. Melanie, a widow with 3 little kids, meets Brian at her son’s baseball game. Brian has sworn off dating, but he changes his mind after spending some time with Melanie. But his long-kept secret threatens their relationship, and another threat brings danger to the couple as well as Melanie’s kids. A well-told clean romance with just the right amount of suspense — and a twist I didn’t see coming.

Big Lies in a Small TownBig Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Told in split time, this is the story of two artists, both of whom were helped in some way by a recently deceased famous artist. Morgan gets out of jail on parole on the condition that she restore a badly damaged mural in time for a gallery opening. She has a lot to do to put her life back together, but can’t help becoming intrigued by what she can find out about Anna, the mural’s original artist who added disturbing elements to the mural at the last minute. The author intertwines the stories beautifully, with just the right amount of plot twists and suspense. (Netgalley review)

SourdoughSourdough by Robin Sloan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you’ve ever baked with sourdough, this book will make sense. Lois, a Silicon Valley robot programmer in a soulless job, is given a sourdough starter when the immigrants who run a takeout business she patronizes return to Europe. As she learns how to bake with it, she discovers that this starter is alive in ways others are not — and this discovery turns her career on its head. Beautifully written.

The Overdue Life of Amy BylerThe Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An engaging cast of characters populates this novel about a school librarian whose almost-ex reappears after 3 years and wants back into her life. Given the opportunity to visit NY for a professional conference, she heads to the city on a journey of rediscovery.

Appalachian Serenade (Appalachian Blessings, #0.5)Appalachian Serenade by Sarah Loudin Thomas

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Delilah’s return to her hometown as a widow means the end of all her dreams to be a mother. As World War II comes to an end, she settles in the small West Virginia Town and finds a job at the local store, then discovers herself in an unexpected competition for the affections of the storekeeper. A sweet novella about two people suffering different kinds of grief.

The Union Street Bakery (Union Street Bakery #1)The Union Street Bakery by Mary Ellen Taylor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Daisy McCrae, newly unemployed, returns home to rescue her family’s bakery before the business fails, she discovers a few surprises: the ghosts in the attic, the ghost of an old relationship, and the journal she inherits from a former customer who holds the key to the truth about Daisy’s past. A good story, but wrapped up just a little too neatly.

The Schoolhouse: A Hickory Grove NovelThe Schoolhouse: A Hickory Grove Novel by Elizabeth Bromke

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An enjoyable, if totally farfetched, story of second chances. Becky returns to her hometown after nearly 20 years with no idea how she’ll support herself and send money to her son who, improbably, is a student at Notre Dame. Becky wants to purchase a tumbledown schoolhouse on her grandparents’ property and turn it into a bookstore — but has no capital for the project. Enter her high-school sweetheart, who works for the school district and is tasked with arranging for the demolition of that schoolhouse.

My Stubborn HeartMy Stubborn Heart by Becky Wade

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kate takes a sabbatical from her job, where she’s burnt out working in social services for at-risk kids, to help her grandmother restore an old family home and inventory its collection of antiques. Their contractor, a former hockey pro grieving the loss of his wife, seems attracted to her, but is always holding back. Grandma and her friends lend comic relief to the story with their matchmaking attempts. It’s a good read, if a shallow one (everyone’s gorgeous, the contractor is super rich, the old home is filled with ridiculously valuable antiques – none of it’s junk). Definitely falls into the “escape read” category.

Someplace Familiar (Laurel Cove Romance #1)Someplace Familiar by >Teresa Tysinger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Livy returns to her hometown to refurbish a family home and sell an impressive collection of antique furniture, she finds that her grandmother’s friends are busy trying to set her up with the contractor who’s restoring the house. She’s not looking for a relationship, and he’s a former hockey star grieving the loss of his wife. One of those romances where everyone’s successful, wealthy, thin, and gorgeous, but an enjoyable read.

Christmas (It’s never too early!)

The Christmas List (A Girl Called Hoodoo Book 1)The Christmas List by Hillary Ibarra

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nothing lifts the spirits like a Christmas novella, and this one by Hillary Ibarra is one of the best I’ve read. It’s the beautifully told tale, inspired by true events in the author’s life, of a hardworking couple who cannot afford groceries for their family, let alone a festive Christmas meal or gifts for the children. A badly-timed job loss has left the parents stressed, but they make every effort to make Christmas special for their family — and they learn that God does, indeed, care about them.

YA/Children’s

Ella's Promise (Great War Great Love #3)Ella’s Promise by Ellen Gable

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This standalone novel concludes the “Great War Great Love” series, and I’m sorry to see it end. As a whole, the series has been a fascinating look at a time period we don’t read about much. Ella Neumann, the daughter of Germans who emigrated to the USA long before the war, is a volunteer nurse in France. Having been a medical student at home before the war, she hopes her experience will land her a coveted place as a surgical nurse, but her supervisor doesn’t trust her because of her ethnic background, and gives her the least-desired jobs. Ella’s encounter with a prisoner of war and an enemy officer, coupled with her ability to speak German, put her in danger as well as allowing her to help others in unexpected ways. With edge-of-the-seat suspense, the story will captivate teen and adult readers alike. (Advance review copy received from author.)

Gifts: Visible & InvisibleGifts: Visible & Invisible by Susan Peek, Katy Huth Jones, Carolyn Astfalk, Theresa Linden, Leslea Wahl, Cynthia T. Toney, T.M. Gaouette, Corinna Turner, Cathy Gilmore

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

No cartoon characters “saving Christmas” by making sure presents happen, or mistletoe moments with less substance than a snowflake here. These 8 stories entertain and edify the young-adult reader and satisfy that Christmas craving for something more, which can only be fulfilled by Jesus. Each story stands alone, but many are connected to other work by the authors from Catholic Teen Books. (Advance Reader Copy provided by Catholic Teen Books)

Nonfiction

9781627853385

Woman of Worth: Prayers and Reflections for Women Inspired by the Book of Proverbs by Melanie Rigney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An encouraging book for women that underscores their value, no matter what their vocation, age, or state in life. Melanie discusses the virtues behind the ideal woman presented in Proverbs 31. In the Introduction, the author notes, “maybe it was progress that I thought my relationship with Jesus did make me a woman of worth.” In each of these 20 chapters, the author examines a verse or two from Proverbs 31, offering a personal reflection and meditation on the virtue, a brief profile of a saint who is a model of that virtue, three questions for discussion or personal journaling, and a prayer. (Advance review copy provided by author)

When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny PeopleWhen Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People by Jeannie Gaffigan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When you read When Life Gives You Pears, you can expect the medical details, the celebrity bio, and the funny. And you can also expect a powerful testimony of the role faith played in Jeannie Gaffigan’s life and in her recovery. In this book, she candidly shares it all: her fears; the details of her surgery, treatment, and recovery; how the whole experience impacted her outlook on the world; the role faith played in her life before, during, and after her illness.
(Review copy received from publisher)

61 Minutes to a Miracle: The True Story of a Family's Devotion61 Minutes to a Miracle: The True Story of a Family’s Devotion by Bonnie L. Engstrom

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Most people who pick up 61 Minutes to a Miracle already know how the story turns out. But the spoiler in the book’s title won’t ruin the experience of reading Bonnie Engstrom’s riveting story of the miracle that opened the door not only to life for her child but also to the beatification of Fulton J. Sheen.
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 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

open book logo

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Advent 2019 Devotionals, plus Prayer Books and Journals

Advent 2019 Devotionals plus Prayer Books and Journals (FranciscanMom.com)
Image credit: By Daria Shevtsova (2018), Unsplash.com, CC0/PD. Text added by author.

With Advent only one short month away, this is the perfect time to choose a new devotional, prayer book, or journal. Whether you’re looking for a seasonal booklet or something you can use year ’round, there are plenty of new options available. Here are some of my new favorites.

Advent Devotionals

937-3 DD Advent 2019.indd

The Living Gospel: Daily Devotions for Advent 2019 (Ave Maria Press) was penned by four Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart. Keep your Bible handy as you read these devotions, each based on the Gospel reading for the day. After a short reflection on the Gospel, the writers offer concrete ways to live the message they find in Scripture. Each day’s entry ends with a brief prayer. Don’t skip the Introduction — it’s a wonderfully encouraging set of tips that we can all use as we ponder how to keep a spiritual focus in an increasingly secular season.

HB9

Let the Heavens be Glad Advent Devotions: Inspiration from Henri J.M. Nouwen (Creative Communications for the Parish). The Advent reflections in this booklet are not based on the Scriptures for the day, but instead begin with excerpts from some of Nouwen’s inspirational writings. Following these are short reflections and prayers. This booklet would work well for individual prayer, or it could be used by a married couple or prayer group.

Daily Devotionals

There’s no law that says you must begin reading a daily devotional on January 1! Jump on in anytime — just flip to the current date and begin from there. Both of these are gift-quality books.

Jesus Speaking

Jesus Speaking: Heart to Heart with the King by Gabrielle Bossis (Pauline Books & Media). This is one of those devotionals that’s as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside. The hardcover book is a beautiful teal color embossed with the title and an image of the Sacred Heart. And I don’t know what kind of paper this cover is made of, but it’s so smooth and almost soft in my hands. A built-in gold ribbon bookmark will help you keep your place. Do you think you don’t have time for a daily devotional? You can definitely manage this one. Each day’s reflection is only a few short sentences long, beginning with a verse or two from Scripture and ending with a prayer prompt.

who do you say that I am cover

Who Do You Say I Am? Daily Reflections on the Bible, the Saints, and the Answer that is Christ by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan (Image Books) is a full-size hardcover with a one-page (often a full page) reflection per day, beginning with a Scripture verse. I enjoy Cardinal Dolan’s down-to-earth style; he writes like he speaks. The tone is never academic, complicated, or stuffy. Last week on his radio show, Conversations with Cardinal Dolan, the Cardinal noted that the book is made up of excerpts from homilies, speeches, and columns — all of which he wrote himself, because he feels uneasy preaching or teaching in someone else’s words. I confess: I have a hard time putting this book down after reading only one reflection. It’s a wonderful mix of personal stories, deep devotion, meditations on the Gospels, saintly inspirations, and nuggets of historical facts. (And if you love the Rosary, you’ll see it coming up again and again in this book!)

Prayers, Retreats, and a Journal

9781627853385

Melanie Rigney’s Woman of Worth: Prayers and Reflections for Women Inspired by the Book of Proverbs (Twenty-Third Publications) is an encouraging book for women that underscores their value, no matter what their vocation, age, or state in life. Melanie discusses the virtues behind the ideal woman presented in Proverbs 31. In the Introduction, the author notes, “maybe it was progress that I thought my relationship with Jesus did make me a woman of worth.” In each of these 20 chapters, the author examines a verse or two from Proverbs 31, offering a personal reflection and meditation on the virtue, a brief profile of a saint who is a model of that virtue, three questions for discussion or personal journaling, and a prayer. This book would make a wonderful Advent spiritual read. I read it, a bit at a time, in the Adoration Chapel.

abide in the heart of christ

Take a DIY retreat for Advent — or before Advent — based on St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. Joe Laramie, SJ, has put together a 10-day personal retreat in Abide in the Heart of Christ (Ave Maria Press). “You and I may feel intimidated by these spiritual giants,” the author notes, “but they can become great models for us because they help us to realize that God works through our spiritual talents and abilities” (68). You can do the retreat in a single 10-day span, or pick one day per week for 10 weeks, or whatever combination works for you: it’s designed “to help busy people grow closer to Christ” (7).

holy angels

Holy Angels Prayer Book is the latest in the Catholic Treasury series from Pauline Books & Media. This small prayer book, like the others in the series, boasts a leatherette cover, gilt-edged pages, and a bound-in ribbon bookmark. I had no idea there were so many ways to pray for the intervention of the angels! There’s even a Rosary of the Angels, novenas to each Archangel and to the Guardian Angels, chaplets, and individual prayers. For those interested in learning more about the angels, there’s even a handy list of Scripture references to angels. This purse-sized book would make a beautiful gift.

my real story journal

Another excellent gift (or gift-to-yourself) book is Becky Thompson’s new journal, My Real Story: One Year to Record, Reflect, and Remember (WaterBrook Press). This undated keepsake journal can be started at any time. It offers a modern, bullet journal feel, with both dot-grid and ruled pages. Throughout the book are some journal prompts and anecdotes, plus pages with three different headings:

  • To be honest, this is how I really feel today
  • For the record, these are the moments I don’t want to forget
  • Give thanks in all circumstances: 3 things I’m thankful for today

This pretty journal offers plenty of room to reflect on how God is working in your life, even in the little things.

Advent 2019 Devotionals plus Prayer Books and Journals (FranciscanMom.com)
Image credit: By Daria Shevtsova (2018), Unsplash.com, CC0/PD

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

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Theology of Home

Theology of Home review
Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

I wanted this to be a lifestyle book.

We’re in the planning stages right now of updating our home’s interior. Over the summer we replaced every door in the house. Now we’re choosing flooring and paint covers and preparing for the removal of the 1970s paneling that covers nearly every interior wall.

We’ve lived here for 21 years. After the first year, my husband primed and painted all that paneling, turning the house from a dark dungeon into a warmer, brighter space. But baby gates have come and gone, and the paint bears the battle scars of vacuum cleaners pushed by hands that were hurried or unskilled (or both), not to mention countless games of Nerf basketball.

It’s time.

Only one of our kids still lives here, and he’s 17. We’re past the point of baby gates, outlet covers, and plastic light sabers. The last Nerf basketball hoop went when we replaced the closet door where it hung.

20 years ago, we made our decisions about wall color and floor covering in an entirely utilitarian fashion. We were in a hurry. We had two young children. But now, we have time. We’d love to get this done now, but it’s going to be several weeks before the work begins, and the only thing we’ve chosen so far is the hard flooring that will replace most of the ancient wall-to-wall carpet in here.

And that’s OK, because now I have time to read Theology of Home: Finding the Eternal in the Everyday.

theology_of_home_cover

As I said right up front, this new book from TAN Books is not a lifestyle book. If you only look at the pictures (and Kim Baile’s photography is beautiful), you might get that impression, and it’s certainly fun to page through the book and enjoy the pictures.

But this book is not going to help me choose the paint color that best complements my San Damiano cross.

This book will help me daydream about what I want my home to be, what I want it to represent, what I want it to say to my family as well as to the friends and acquaintances who visit.

My house is never going to look like something they’d feature in a lifestyle book. The coffee table in my living room is strewn with (unread) newspapers and a permanent collection of church hymnals and the portable music stand we use when our parish folk group rehearses there. The family room is littered with video-game controllers, and mismatched afghans spill out of the toy box I had as a child, which now holds blankets for visiting teenagers to use when they sleep over. And we certainly don’t have the budget for high-end accessories.

That’s our lifestyle. We’re good with that.

Theology of Home invites us to celebrate what we love about our homes — not the paint color, or the comfy couch, or the carefully curated light-switch plates. Instead, authors Carrie Gress, Noelle Mering, and Megan Schrieber muse on the meanings behind the spaces in our homes as they invite us into their own stories of home and share episodes from the lives of the saints in which home figures prominently.

Theology of Home review
Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

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.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: 61 Minutes to a Miracle

Most people who pick up 61 Minutes to a Miracle already know how the story turns out. But the spoiler in the book’s title won’t ruin the experience of reading Bonnie Engstrom’s riveting story of the miracle that opened the door not only to life for her child but also to the beatification of Fulton J. Sheen.

61 Minutes

Sheen’s intercession is credited with not only baby James’ survival after he spent more than an hour without breathing or a heartbeat immediately following his birth – but also the child’s development without the ill effects medical professionals expect after extended time without oxygen at birth.

Bonnie Engstrom confides, at the beginning of the book, that she did not have a lifelong devotion to the storied archbishop from her home diocese, whose TV appearances were must-see Catholic TV in the mid-20th century. I found the story of her growing devotion to Sheen to be approachable and inspiring, underscoring the fact that first impressions don’t always tell the full story.

Much of this book centers on James Fulton Engstrom’s birth story, and Engstrom doesn’t hold back on the details there. If you’re the squeamish type, like I am, you’ll want to know that right up front. But even with that sensitivity issue, I was never discouraged from reading the rest of the book, and I’m glad I powered through that difficult, intense section.

61 Minutes to a Miracle is an inside look at the details of a miracle as well as the canonization process.

Barb's Book shelf blog title


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.

#OpenBook: Summer 2019

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 this summer:

Fiction

BecalmedBecalmed by Normandie Fischer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tadie co-owns a successful business, is a jewelry artist in her own right, and has an historic home and a sailboat. She’s loving life, and falling for the widower (and, even more, for his young, smart, independent little girl, Jilly) — but her controlling ex is back in town and wants her back. The ending wraps up way too neatly, but Jilly is a terrific character and deserves her own middle-grade story.

A 5K and a KissA 5K and a Kiss by Maddie Evans

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You don’t have to be a runner to enjoy this novel – all you need is an appreciation for well-written banter and likable characters. Maddie Evans doesn’t put her characters in unrealistic situations: There are no billionaires, no 25-year-olds with their own thriving business bankrolled by their parents’ cash. These people struggle, and their struggles are what the books are about. In this story, Aileen finds help as she grieves the loss of her sister in an unlikely place: the local running club. This is more than a sweet romance – it’s a friendship story, too.

A Tease and a Trail RunA Tease and a Trail Run by Maddie Evans

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great story! Charlotte (Charlie) takes refuge at her aunt’s home in Maine after she breaks her engagement to the guy who’s been cheating on her, only weeks before the wedding. Brandon (a peripheral character in “A 5K and a Kiss” and a childhood friend) helps her get reacquainted with the people in the town she used to visit every summer. As a family crisis diverts Charlie’s attention and a job crisis threatens Brandon’s livelihood — and the sister who depends on his rent — the two begin to fall for each other, but the sudden return of Charlie’s ex threatens to mess everything up. I’m enjoying the members of the running club who populate the books in this series; they’re a terrific community of very diverse people who bicker like siblings but always have each other’s back. (Dare I say I’m jealous of that community they’ve formed?)

The Story Keeper (Carolina Heirlooms, #2)The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Newly hired at her dream publishing job, Jen discovers a piece of a decaying manuscript on her desk — but it’s unsigned, and once she reads it, she knows she has to figure out who’s behind it. Doing so will require that she revisit her home town, a place she’d hoped to leave behind forever. This book contains the chapters of the manuscript that Jen finds in various places, and those are the strongest part of the novel.

The Father's SonThe Father’s Son by Jim Sano

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Boston just after the clergy sex-abuse scandals broke in 2002, a successful businessman works through his own childhood abandonment issues and marital failure with the help of a priest. A lot of moral instruction and apologetics was built into the novel, which clocks in at 441 pages, and that seemed to slow down the advancement of the plot and add an element that was didactic, if not preachy. Recommended for readers struggling with the abuse scandals and Church teaching on marriage.

Where the Fire Falls (Vintage National Parks, #2)Where the Fire Falls by Karen Barnett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Painter Olivia pins her career hopes on a trip to Yosemite, underwritten by a wealthy patron who seeks to control her art. Her protector, National Parks guide Clark must decide if he wants to return to the ministry or if his true calling is as a park ranger. The author masterfully sets the scene in Yosemite, as both Olivia and Clark must deal with their pasts, both victims of other people’s bad choices.

Just One KissJust One Kiss by Courtney Walsh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve enjoyed the other Harbor Pointe stories, so this installment was a welcome read. Carly’s teen son Jaden has begun to turn his life around as he pursues competitive skiing, but health issues threaten to sideline him permanently. Carly, a nurse, puts her professional reputation and career on the line as she advocates for her son.

The Color of a Memory (The Color of Heaven, #5)The Color of a Memory by Julianne MacLean

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Audrey is sure her firefighter husband is a player from the moment they met, but she eventually decides to trust him and marries him. After his line-of-duty death, she meets a mysterious woman who claims to have secrets about her husband, and she once again regrets ever trusting him.

Bridge of Scarlet LeavesBridge of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maddie, a violinist whose brother is serving in World War II, secretly dates Lane, the son of Japanese immigrants. They elope on the eve of the Pearl Harbor attack, and discover that not only has the world changed overnight, but they’re expected to be enemies. Lane’s family is sent to Manzanar, and Maddie gives up her dream of attending Juilliard to follow her husband there.

Sold on a MondaySold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1931, Americans were making impossible choices in order to feed their families. Journalist Ellis Reed spies 2 children seated on a porch under a “children for sale” sign and takes a picture — not meant for publication — that winds up in the paper, leading to unintended consequences for himself, secretary Lillian Palmer, the children in the photo, and two families caught in the middle of unexpected deceptions.

Wildflower Hope (The Wildflower House #2)Wildflower Hope by Grace Greene

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this sequel to Wildflower Heart, Kara struggles to move past her father’s death and renovate the historic home he’d recently purchased into an artists’ retreat. At the same time, she must decide whether she can let go of the guy who’s just moved across the country for his job — and let new love in. Kara is more likable in this book than in the first in the series.

YA/Children’s

Perilous Days (Brave Hearts Book 1)Perilous Days by Kathryn Griffin Swegart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Packed with a cast of actual historical characters, this novel for middle-school readers is not just another Holocaust book. It’s the story of a reluctant young conscript into the Nazi army who discovers that his Catholic faith and Hitler’s philosophies are incompatible, and whose family has to entrust the care of his handicapped brother to a convent in order to protect him from the Nazis’ eugenic policies. Felix finds help in surprising and mysterious ways as he works to rescue wounded soldiers on the battlefield.

Martyrs (Brave Hearts Book 2)Martyrs by Kathryn Griffin Swegart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This historical novel tells the story of Fr. Sebastian Rale, a missionary priest in New England during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. It is a window into a time and place not treated in detail in the history books, and into a real-life missionary whose love for the Lord and conviction about his mission will inspire the reader.
One caveat: this book does contain graphic scenes of war, torture, and martyrdom. It is not for the sensitive reader. It’s labeled for ages 10 to 14, but I’d recommend that parents read it first, for this reason.

Waiting with ElmerWaiting with Elmer by Deanna K. Klingel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Willy, a homeless teenager with a criminal father and his own burden of guilt to bear, winds up in Waitnsee, an unusual town where a man named Elmer mentors him, leading him on a journey of growth, faith, and reconciliation. This book, set in the Depression era, features a wonderful cast of characters, including Father Flanagan of Boys Town.

Nonfiction

All for Her: The Autobiography of Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C.All for Her: The Autobiography of Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C. by Patrick Peyton C.S.C.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Peyton tells his own life story, from humble beginnings in an impoverished Irish town to the founding and development of Family Rosary and Family Theater Productions. I was struck not only by Peyton’s deep faith and his devotion to the Blessed Mother, but also his ability to multitask and get things done long before the internet made instant communication possible. This new edition of Peyton’s 1973 autobiography features larger type plus a foreword and epilogue.

Handy Little Guide to the Holy SpiritHandy Little Guide to the Holy Spirit by Michelle Jones Schroeder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Michelle Schroeder brings humor and a personal touch to her treatment of a topic that’s, let’s face it, kind of mysterious to many of us. This booklet from Our Sunday Visitor is designed to help us both understand and forge a connection to the Holy Spirit. Beginning with a discussion of the Trinity (in non-theological, approachable terms), Michelle notes that we don’t just need to know about the Holy Spirit — we need to know Him (14). That’s true of all three Persons of the Trinity, of course, but making a connection to the Holy Spirit doesn’t always seem as intuitive as connecting to God the Father and Jesus, the Son.
Read my full review. (Review copy received from publisher.)

Day by Day with Saint Faustina: 365 ReflectionsDay by Day with Saint Faustina: 365 Reflections by Susan Tassone

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Susan Tassone, well-known for her other writing on Purgatory, Adoration, and Divine Mercy, has taken St. Faustina’s Diary and made it accessible in a new daily devotional from Sophia Institute Press. This book is a page-per-day devotional that bridges the gap between the spiritual and the practical. While the monthly sections of the book are not organized by theme, Susan’s choice of readings for each day of the year are often informed by the liturgical calendar. Each day’s reflection is made up of three parts: a quote from the Diary, a short reflection (just a few sentences) that’s instructional and also a call to action or sometimes a quote from Scripture, and a simple prayer to wrap it up. Read my full review. Review copy received from publisher.

Fifteen Spirituals That Will Change Your LifeFifteen Spirituals That Will Change Your Life by Henry L. Carrigan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading Fifteen Spirituals That Will Change Your Life is like taking a very specific, self-paced music appreciation course. You’ll gain a deep knowledge of 15 beloved spirituals and a new appreciation of their history and message. This is a book you’ll want to read with music by your side.
Read my full review. Review copy received from publisher.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect TimingWhen: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had no idea there was science behind time management, but it all makes sense thanks to Daniel Pink’s book. He’s gathered research from multiple fields to support conclusions such as: students work better after research (any teacher could have told him this), people generally have 2 creative peak times per day, and singing in a group is good for you. A fascinating book! This is one I’ll want to read again.


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 this month’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 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

“Know Thyself”: Because One-Size Organizing Doesn’t Fit All

Finally, an organizing book for the rest of us: the ones who look organized on the outside … until you open doors or drawers, and the ones whose stuff is all over the place. In Know Thyself: The Imperfectionist’s Guide to Sorting Your Stuff, Lisa Lawmaster Hess has created a do-able guide to embracing your unique combination of personal and organizing styles and working with them instead of against them.

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I’ve followed Lisa’s writing on organizing for years. Through it, I’ve learned that my personal style is “I need to see it.” We’ve talked together about my wish for an array of clipboards on my office wall, and last summer that wish became a reality. These clipboards, with a fluid arrangement that changes as the contents of the clipboards are switched out, help me keep on top of deadlines for my freelance work — and go a long way toward keeping piles of papers off my desktop.

Barb Szyszkiewicz clipboard wall organizing
My office “wall of clipboards.” Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

Parents: Don’t miss the chapter on helping kids get organized for school. Lisa is a retired elementary-school counselor turned college psychology instructor, so she has plenty of experience with students of all ages. And I know that her advice works: When I was a long-term substitute teacher for second grade in 2014, one of my students just could not keep track of his pencils and eraser. He’d leave them on top of his desk, and they’d roll off. Or he’d put them inside the desk, where that little indentation was supposed to keep them handy, but they didn’t stay inside his desk either. The pencil case he’d been required to purchase? That was shoved into the back of the desk, because finding it, opening it, inserting or removing items, and putting it back were way too many steps.

Lisa’s suggestions to think about how we work led me to the dollar store, where a 2-pack of drawer organizers was easy to find. One morning I brought the little bins to school and quietly offered one to my student, telling him that this was a special place where he could keep his pencils and eraser, so they wouldn’t fall on the floor. It didn’t work perfectly, but it was much better, and he could spend more time doing his classwork and less time looking for his runaway supplies. It’s a small thing, but small things matter, and I’m glad I was able to help my student without embarrassing him.

Lisa’s positive “you CAN!” attitude toward organizing contrasts with prescriptive “you MUST do it THIS way” methods. In Know Thyself, you’ll find tools to help you think about how you use and store your stuff — so you can make a conclusion about what will work best for you. That’s the only way to make sustainable change; someone else’s method is never as good for you as it is for someone else.

KNOW THYSELF book review Franciscanmom.com
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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.

Read and Listen: “Fifteen Spirituals That Will Change Your Life”

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Fifteen Spirituals That Will Change Your Life by guitarist and music critic Henry L. Carrigan Jr. is a book you’ll want to read with music by your side.

Fortunately, publisher Paraclete Press has assembled a playlist on Spotify of multiple versions of the 15 spirituals Carrigan highlights in this book. It’s easy to open up Spotify on your phone or tablet, cue up this playlist, and play different artists’ renditions of the songs as Carrigan details the interpretation and instrumentation of each one.

Read. Pause. Listen. Repeat.

Reading Fifteen Spirituals That Will Change Your Life is like taking a very specific, self-paced music appreciation course. You’ll gain a deep knowledge of 15 beloved spirituals and a new appreciation of their history and message.

15 Spirituals

In addition to describing the songs’ performances by well-known musicians, Carrigan delves into each song’s history, discussing the time period in which a particular song was written and details of the composer’s life. Readers will learn about the theology behind the songs as well, with an intensive look at the spirituals’ poetic structure, verse by verse. What are we saying when we sing these words?

Carrigan also shares moments from his own life and depictions of well-known performances of some of these spirituals.

Reflections to end each chapter offer questions for discussion, prayer, journaling, or meditation.

As I began reading this book, I was called to sing at a funeral at my parish. One of the requested hymns was “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” which I’d heard before but had never sung. Reading Carrigan’s line-by-line analysis of this spiritual helped reinforce the message of the song: joyous praise amid sorrow. It helped me better prepare to sing a new-to-me song at the funeral of someone I knew.


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.

Daily Prayer Inspiration from St. Faustina

Tassone book review

There’s a lot more to the spiritual legacy of St. Faustina Kowalska besides the popular Divine Mercy chaplet. But for a long time I’d shied away from reading her writing, figuring that it would be complicated and intimidating. Aside from quotes in other spiritual books, I haven’t read her Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul.

Susan Tassone, well-known for her other writing on Purgatory, Adoration, and Divine Mercy, has taken St. Faustina’s Diary and made it accessible in a new daily devotional from Sophia Institute Press. Day by Day with Saint Faustina: 365 Reflections is a page-per-day devotional that bridges the gap between the spiritual and the practical.

Day by Day St Faustina

While the monthly sections of the book are not organized by theme, Susan’s choice of readings for each day of the year are often informed by the liturgical calendar. Each day’s reflection is made up of three parts: a quote from the Diary, a short reflection (just a few sentences) that’s instructional and also a call to action or sometimes a quote from Scripture, and a simple prayer to wrap it up.

The simplicity of Susan’s writing is an excellent foil to the more formal style characteristic of St. Faustina. Susan has the ability to get to the heart of the message in each selection and frame it in language that inspires, edifies, and motivates. For example, here’s the closing prayer for Sunday, July 21’s reflection:

Thank you, Lord, that I don’t have to understand Your peace in order to receive it.
Jesus, I trust in You.

Why are we talking about a daily devotional in the middle of the year? Why not? You can start praying with this devotional anytime you like (that’s what bookmarks are for!), so there’s no need to feel that you must wait until January to add Day by Day with Saint Faustina to your daily prayer time.


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.

#OpenBook: June 2019 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’s a taste of what I’ve been reading (hint: there’s been a bit of a fiction binge lately).

Fiction

Pearl of Great PricePearl of Great Price by Myra Johnson

A job in the family business in a small town suits Julie Pearl Stiles just fine, but when she realizes she may be at the center of a long-ago tragedy, she begins to wonder about her real identity. This story of suffering, friendship, mental illness, romance, and figuring out one’s place in the world will hook you from the start.

Ever Faithful: A Vintage National Parks Novel (Shadows of the Wilderness)Ever Faithful: A Vintage National Parks Novel by Karen Barnett.

All the local color you could want in a novel. This Depression-era story, set in Yellowstone National Park, sets a vivid scene as backdrop for a blossoming romance between a Brooklyn-born CCC worker and a young local woman working hard to achieve her goal of becoming a teacher. Both are wounded in their own ways. A mystery creates enough intrigue (with plausible red herrings) to keep you reading. I’ll look for more from this author!

The Sisters of Summit AvenueThe Sisters of Summit Avenue by Lynn Cullen

“Two sisters bound together by love, duty, and pain” – from the blurb. SO MUCH PAIN. The pain was overwhelmingly palpable. Ruth and her 4 daughters barely keep the family farm running during the Depression; her husband was felled several years ago by encephalitis lethargica. Her sister June is one of the “Bettys” — women developing recipes and answering letters to Betty Crocker. And their mother Dorothy is practically a recluse, hiding from the secrets of her past. Plenty of plot twists and infidelities, and the split-time story line can get a bit confusing. And then there’s that cheap trope where one of the characters wants to write a book, and you discover that you’re reading the book they’re writing. (Netgalley review; available August 2019.)

The Road She Left BehindThe Road She Left Behind by Christine Nolfi

Old family dramas and a lifetime of hurts caused Darcy, burdened by guilt over an accident that killed her father and sister, to flee her family’s estate, abandoning her sister’s baby, Emerson, to the mother Darcy couldn’t wait to escape. 8 years later, Emerson disappears, and Darcy is called back to her family home to help find the young boy and make amends to the boyfriend she left behind years ago. A good story with great secondary characters.

Like Never Before (Walker Family, #2)Like Never Before by Melissa Tagg

When political speechwriter Logan discovers he’s inherited his hometown newspaper, the last thing he wants to do is follow up on that or deal with the ambitious young editor who wants to take over the paper before it’s sold to a conglomerate. But Amelia is chasing a story that has Logan intrigued, and he finds himself trying to untangle Maple Valley’s longtime unsolved mystery, and falling for Amelia in the process. A light, clean summer read; part of an enjoyable series.

All this Time (Walker Family, #4)All this Time by Melissa Tagg

Bear, haunted by a guilty promise he made after his girlfriend’s death, wants to prove himself to her parents in the mission they founded in Brazil. But he’s charged with the care of his nephew and niece, whose parents’ and grandparents’ drug-trade activities put them in danger. He winds up in Maple Valley, where an old crush invites him to stay with her family until his situation stabilizes.

A Place to Belong (Maple Valley)A Place to Belong by Melissa Tagg

This novella provides some back story about Megan and her shop, Coffee Coffee, in the small town of Maple Valley. When Megan meets Eric, owner of a struggling local halfway house, she’s almost ready to put aside a dangerous infatuation from her past – until her baby’s father returns to town. A bit predictable, but fills in the blanks of some of the other Maple Valley novels.

From the Start (Walker Family, #1)From the Start by Melissa Tagg

First in the Walker Family series, this book sets the scene for the quintessential (and a little bit quirky) small town of Maple Valley. Screenwriter/novelist Kate needs a fresh start after disappointments in love and her career, and when she returns to her hometown, she runs into Colton Greene, a sidelined NFL quarterback who needs someone to write his biography as much as he needs a new direction in life after his injuries.

Sister Mary Baruch: The Early YearsSister Mary Baruch: The Early Years by Jacob Restrick

Rebecca Feinstein is drawn to Catholicism through a friend, and while she’s still a college student, she decides to convert from Judaism and, later, to enter a cloistered Dominican monastery. Various family members react in different ways, but a rift between Rebecca and much of her family continues throughout the novel. It’s a good story, but it reads as if an elderly man were dictating the book to a transcriber. I was not intrigued enough to continue reading the series.

Jane by the BookJane by the Book by Pepper D. Basham

This romance novella features two overly-formal characters thrown together by a 150-year-old mystery. Buttoned-up inkeeper Jane and impulsive novelist Titus are an unlikely pair as they try to track down the story of one of Jane’s ancestors while both visit Bath, England. Meanwhile, Titus writes Jane into his novel — and she suspects he’s using her. Maybe you need to be an Austen fan to appreciate this better, but I was underwhelmed.

The Road to Paradise (Vintage National Parks, #1)The Road to Paradise by Karen Barnett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In an attempt to escape the influence of her controlling boyfriend, Margie takes refuge in Mt. Rainier National Park. Her senator father pulls some strings to secure a place for her, but she chooses a remote, tumbledown cabin in order to be closer to nature. Fighting her own fears of her boyfriend when he follows her to the mountain, Margie also battles a rush to development that would destroy the park’s natural beauty — as well as her attraction for a handsome ranger who doesn’t share her faith.

YA/Children’s

Silver Meadows SummerSilver Meadows Summer by Emma Otheguy

11-year-old Carolina grieves her native Puerto Rico, which her family left so they could join relatives in upstate NY. She feels that her family is leaving their heritage behind, trying to fit in to their new place, but all she wants to do is go home and have everything the way it was. She befriends a girl at day camp, and together they find a tumbledown cabin in the woods, which they fix up as a combination hideout/art studio. But their camp, and their studio, are threatened by real-estate developers, and they don’t think middle-schoolers can do anything to stop it. Enjoyable novel for ages 10 and up.

Lucky Broken GirlLucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar

10-year-old Ruthie, a recent immigrant to New York City from Castro’s Cuba, is just finding her way to fit in when she’s in a terrible car accident that leaves her housebound and in a body cast for months. She endures unimaginable loneliness on top of the severe pain from the accident and surgery. This middle-grade semi-autobiographical novel explores the experience of Jewish-Cuban immigrants in the late 1960s.

Nonfiction

The Catholic Working Mom's Guide to LifeThe Catholic Working Mom’s Guide to Life by JoAnna Wahlund

A practical guide bolstered by real-life honesty. The author speaks from her own experience as a Catholic working mom. There are chapters concentrating on specific concerns of moms with infants and very young children, but much of the advice in this book applied to me as well (a full-time, work-from-home mom of a teenager with a young adult also living at home). It’s a good antidote to the Mommy Wars and encouragement to working moms, whether full-time, part-time, split-shift, or what flavor of work schedule describes yours. Many, MANY plugs for the author’s Facebook group, which came off as a bit self-serving. (ARC received from publisher.)

Live Big, Love Bigger: Getting Real with BBQ, Sweet Tea, and a Whole Lotta JesusLive Big, Love Bigger: Getting Real with BBQ, Sweet Tea, and a Whole Lotta Jesus by Kathryn Whitaker

Not what I expected – and that was a good thing! From the blurb, I thought it would be more of a travelogue of the Whitaker family’s barbecue pilgrimage, and that’s not at all the case. Since I’ve never been to Texas nor had barbecue, I didn’t expect to relate to this book. Instead, I found that it’s full of honest talk from a mom who had to learn the hard way a lesson we all need to learn: perfectionism doesn’t get you anywhere. If you have a quiet place to read and a bottomless glass of sweet tea, you’ll easily read your way through this book in an afternoon, but its lessons will stick with you much longer. (ARC received from publisher; available late August 2019.)

EducatedEducated by Tara Westover

A disturbing memoir of a family that was beyond dysfunctional. The author grew up physically and emotionally isolated from others and was never allowed to attend school. Her mentally ill father and codependent mother created an unstable environment for the family that put themselves and their children in danger on repeated occasions. The author seems to be trying to move toward a place of healing, but frequently backtracks and undercuts some of her statements by introducing competing accounts from others. This book is enormously popular but I don’t see the attraction, unless you’re after a voyeuristic look into a family life affected by mental illness.

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 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Detached”

detached review
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I’m fighting my way through T.J. Burdick’s Detached, which is a good sign that I really needed this book.

Detached: Put Your Phone in Its Place (OSV) challenges readers to rethink how they use their phones. Awareness is key to the whole process, and I’m becoming painfully aware of my own lack of self-discipline when it comes to using my phone.

  • Waiting in line at the supermarket? Check email.
  • Before putting my car key in the ignition? Take a quick peek at Twitter or Facebook.
  • Waiting for the water to boil for tea in the morning? Cue up Instagram.

All those times, there are other, better things I could be doing. I’m not going to say that email and social media are bad things. Facebook and Instagram allow me to keep in touch with my cousins, many of whom live far away, as well as friends old and new. Social media is also job-related for me.

It’s really easy to give in to the temptation to use my phone unnecessarily. I pick up my phone a lot. And I do not intend to get rid of my phone or stop carrying it around with me. Here’s why:

  • My husband and kids text me during the day about changes in plans, or with questions about plans.
  • I like being able to check the weather.
  • If I miss a call on our home phone, voicemail forwards to my phone as a text message, so urgent calls can be answered immediately.
  • I enjoy listening to podcasts while I fold laundry, wash the floors, or drive.
  • One of my sons has type 1 diabetes, and we use an app to monitor his blood sugar. While he’s a quite independent teenager, we keep in touch frequently (by text, usually) regarding adjustments he needs to make (insulin dosing or snacks).

I’ve been keeping a journal as I go through Detached. I will admit that I did not (and will not) sign on for a full-on 21-day technology retreat. (Again, social media is job-related.) Also, I’m not yet done reading the book. But this process is definitely making me think twice about how, where, when, and why I use my phone.

For several months already, I’ve had an email boundary in place. A change in mail servers meant that email for one of my jobs was not longer accessible on my phone, and I decided to turn off phone access for email for my other job as well. This means that I can only use my work email when I’m on my laptop, and I have not missed the ability to reply to work emails from the checkout line in the supermarket (yes, I have been guilty of doing that). So the boundary has been good for me.

While the author recommends a total 21-day social media fast (involving deleting the apps from the phone), I didn’t go there, as I said above. I did, however, find out how to use the Screen Time feature in iOS to keep me accountable for the time I use on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. There was a bit of a bump in the road with that, because I use Skype to communicate with my coworkers, and that was counting as social media time. But thanks to some helpful replies to an SOS I sent out (on Twitter — oh, the irony) I got it figured out, and that little popup reminder telling me that I have 5 minutes left for the day is a good indicator for me that I do need that extra help setting boundaries.

I like having a tiny but mighty computer in my pocket. I like that I can keep in touch with family, friends, and coworkers easily — no matter where I am. I like that I can help my son stay healthy. I like knowing when that predicted thunderstorm will roll through. I like listening to podcasts that edify, entertain, and educate me while I do repetitive chores. In Detached, T.J. Burdick isn’t asking me to give up any of those good things. He’s challenging me to be more intentional about whether I am efficiently consuming and producing content (11), or just wasting time.

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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.