On Barb’s (Prayer) Book Shelf: 3 Books of Prayers for All Seasons

I love to read books about prayer, but sometimes what you really need is a book of prayer: a collection of prayers for various situations. So far this year, Ave Maria Press has published three prayer collections designed to help you, your family, and your parish find just the right prayer for just about any occasion. All of these books are excellent prayer resources for liturgical living.

Bless Us, O Lord: A Family Treasure of Mealtime Prayers by Robert M. Hamma is a wonderful collection of prayers before meals. For many families, grace before meals and bedtime are the prime times for family prayer — but I’d venture to guess that most of us don’t venture too far beyond the familiar “Bless us, O Lord …” that became the title of this book. If you and your family would like to incorporate the liturgical year into your mealtime prayers, this is a wonderful resource.

Inside this book, you’ll find a robust selection of prayers based on the liturgical year: days of the week, liturgical seasons, and feasts throughout the year. The author has included not only meal blessings particular to those days and seasons, but introductory material to help your family understand why these saints and seasons we celebrate are important.

There are many ways to use this book: I suggest keeping it handy at mealtimes and letting school-age children take turns checking whether there’s a saint to celebrate today, or selecting one of the many traditional options and prayers for special occasions. Bless Us, O Lord has special mealtime prayers for birthdays, Baptisms, school milestones, visitors, and even “when we’ve had a bad day.”

Justin McClain’s Alleluia to Amen: The Prayer Book for Catholic Parishes is probably not the kind of book you’d expect a family to want to use. While it was designed for parishes, many of the prayers in this book are appropriate for family use as well as use by small church groups such as prayer circles or book clubs.

Alleluia to Amen includes morning, noontime, and evening prayers for each day of the week (perfect for students and working adults). You’ll also find a section dedicated to the liturgical year, connecting prayers for the parish and those who serve in it to various feast days and seasons. If you feel insecure with the idea of spontaneous prayer to begin a meeting, this book contains many options. A handy index will help you find the right prayer for just about any special intention you can think of, including these:

  • for an end to gossip within the community
  • for the return of loved ones to the Church
  • for a couple before a wedding
  • for healing and recovery after a natural disaster
  • for parents transitioning their child to college
  • for students before exams
  • for parishioners battling addiction
  • for people within a wide range of occupations and ministries in the parish

Alleluia to Amen is a comprehensive and easy-to-use tool to find the perfect prayers for various occasions within parish life, ministry work, and even family life.

Prayers are beautiful in any language, but if you have an interest in exploring the beauty and poetry of the Latin prayers that have been part of the fabric of the prayer life of the Church for many centuries, Oremus: A Treasury of Latin Prayers brings it all together in a small-format book that’s easy to carry to Mass or Adoration or keep on a side table.

All the prayers and litanies in this book are presented with the English translation side by side with the Latin, on facing pages. This will help you follow along with the prayers as you learn them. The index includes both English and Latin titles for the prayers so you can find exactly the ones you want. Sections of this book include:

  • Morning Prayers
  • Prayers at Meals
  • Evening Prayers
  • Prayers for Adoration and Holy Communion
  • The Rosary
  • Consecration to Mary
  • Stations of the Cross
  • Divine Mercy Chaplet
  • Marian Prayers
  • other prayers, Gospel sequences, and a selection of psalms

In the Introduction, the book’s editors explain that “when you pray in Latin, you are making the unity of the Church more visible” and “praying in Latin also gives us a way of separating our everyday speech from the words we use to speak to God.” A pronunciation guide at the beginning of the book provides clues about how to say (or sing) the words of the prayers in Latin. Oremus is a lovely book; the word “treasury” in its title is absolutely accurate: these prayers of the Church are indeed historical and spiritual treasures.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
I received review copies of Oremus and Bless Us, O Lord from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. 

Think Like a Writer

When I was a college student, a series called The Paper Chase was in reruns on some cable channel or other, and my mom and I enjoyed watching it together. It chronicled the lives of several Harvard Law students (and was much less glamorous than Legally Blonde makes law school out to be). The famously strict, buttoned-up Professor Kingsfield was known to tell his students on the first day of class, “You come in here with a skull full of mush … you leave thinking like a lawyer.”

I don’t know if Katharine Grubb had that line of dialogue in mind when she titled her newest work, and she’s certainly not the strict-professor type, but she and Professor Kingsfield have one thing in common: they know how to give people the thinking skills they need to do the work they want to do.

Katharine knows how to teach, and she knows how to teach writers. Here’s her cred: she’s a homeschooling mom of 5 (1 college grad, 2 college students, 2 current high-schoolers), a novelist, and author of three books for writers:

I’ve read, and would recommend, all of these — and I’m not even a novelist! (There was plenty of helpful information in Write a Novel for any writer, regardless of genre).

Today Katherine’s newest book for writers releases, and it’s packed with that same wise, funny, (sometimes) strict, “I get it” kind of advice that characterizes her other books. It was a privilege to get to read an advance copy of Think Like a Writer

TWEET: Set yourself up for success as an author by learning how to think like one – in 10 minutes a day: new book from @10MinNovelist

From the introduction to Think Like a Writer:

All successful authors, back in the beginning of their careers, to a mental leap and first saw themselves as writers. They set up their lives, physically and emotionally to achieve their writing goals. They all, for lack of a better term, had a writer mode in their settings, either analytical or emotional (or a combination of both) and tuned into it as they worked on their projects. 

How do you get into this “writer mode” Katherine speaks about? There’s definitely a lot of self-discipline involved — even if you only get 10 minutes at a time to work. She notes,

We can be better equipped to manage our lives around our art. I believe that time, tools, and habits can be organized in such a way that interruptions are minimized. Note that I did not say eliminated. I said minimized.

Massive success does not require massive action. What will make a difference, in the long run, is little work on a regular basis.

If you want to learn the power of small, manageable habits in your success as a writer (or your professional success in any sphere), Think Like a Writer is for you.

 


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images courtesy of Katharine Grubb. All rights reserved.
I was provided a free advance review copy of this book, but no other compensation, for this review. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.
Purchase links in this article are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchase through these links benefits my work.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Prompt Me to Pray

Chapter 18 of the Gospel of Luke opens with Jesus telling His disciples a parable about “the necessity of praying always without becoming weary.”

Constant prayer doesn’t come easy. Maybe we think we’re too busy to pray like that. Maybe we know we’re too distracted. Maybe we just don’t know where to start.

Monica McConkey has compiled practical tips for prayer in a new combination guidebook/journal/prayer resource, Prompt Me to PrayThis 115-page book encourages the reader to create “reminders and cues to acknowledge God’s Presence and to prompt us to pray more often, throughout daily life” (4). Inspired by the spiritual classic The Practice of the Presence of God, Monica has spent years seeking ways to reinforce her prayer life, and she shares what she’s learned in this new book.

Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

Here are some of the many prayer helps you’ll find inside Prompt Me to Pray:

  • Short, simple prayers for guidance in learning to pray
  • Tips on praying a daily Rosary
  • Encouragement to use visual cues as prayer reminders (I do this: it definitely works!)
  • Journal pages to help you set up a prayer plan that works with your schedule and life circumstances
  • Worksheets to guide you through praying in times of temptation, annoyance, suffering, and impatience
  • Advice on making personal prayer a sustainable habit
  • Reproducible Pocket Prayer cards to carry with you, keep in the car, hang on the fridge, or even use as bookmarks so you can pray anywhere and everywhere
  • Reproducible prayer intention page
  • Reproducible prayer starters

This book is sprinkled with Monica’s artistic touches, which add to its accessible, friendly feel. That same artistic touch adorned the envelope in which my copy of the book was mailed! Check out the stamp pictured here: “St Anthony, guide my mail.” Find this stamp and more at Monica’s Arma Dei Prayer Impressions Shop.

Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

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

On Barb’s Bookshelf: The Lazy Genius Way

I love the term “Lazy Genius.” As author Kendra Adachi uses it here, “lazy” is not an uncomplimentary adjective meaning “doesn’t do any work” or “doesn’t get anything done.” Instead, “lazy” refers to someone who prefers to work smarter, not harder.

In that respect, I am all about being lazy. I’ve been known to say that laziness is the mother of invention, and I read Cheaper by the Dozen dozens of times, partly because I was fascinated that the parents worked in the efficiency field. If there’s a way to do something faster or with less effort, bring it on. I’m always looking for those.

But Kendra Adachi emphasizes in The Lazy Genius Way that being a Lazy Genius is not simply about getting your chores done so you can sit around and eat ice cream and read novels or binge-watch Netflix. It’s about getting stuff done so you can do the things that matter. And it’s about getting rid of what doesn’t matter. It’s not just simplifying — it’s making smart choices.
Lazy Genius Way cover

Be a genius about the things that matter and lazy about the things that don’t … to you.

Listen to the full introduction to The Lazy Genius Way on Kendra’s podcast.

There’s a lot in this book about being real, and that isn’t only the kind of “real” where someone on Instagram shows you what a disaster their life is because they forgot to put the carafe into the coffeepot before they hit the “brew” button, or their kids run around naked, strewing dirty, clean, and in-between laundry in their wake. It’s also the kind of “real” where you celebrate the good stuff and don’t feel ashamed of bragging (Small Success, anyone?).

In The Lazy Genius Way, you’ll be encouraged use the lazy tricks to help you save time so you can turn around and spend that time the way you want to spend that time: with family, with friends, deepening your spiritual life, taking better care of yourself.

The chapters in this book are packed with tips, strategies, and ideas – so bring your pencil and planner and prepare to think about how and why you do the things you do. The habits, how-tos, and routines that end each chapter will inspire you to make changes and celebrate what you’re already doing well.

What’s my own best Lazy Genius tip? Wear a lab coat when you cook. It covers even more than an apron, so if you make a mess cook with enthusiasm, you won’t regret it later when it’s time to do the laundry.

Kendra Adachi is a Christian author, podcaster, and Instagram personality, so the spiritual is a big part of this book. She talks about church, about biting off more than you can chew when you decide on a devotional practice, about living up to those Proverbs 31 expectations … and about changing the way we think about ourselves and others. Being a Lazy Genius, it turns out, is more than just saving time. It’s about using your mental, physical, and spiritual resources in ways that nourish you and those around you.

The Lazy Genius on Instagram

The Lazy Genius Podcast

The Lazy Genius website

This book is available for preorder now and releases August 11, 2020.

 


 

Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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

New Graphic Novel Tells the Story of a Favorite Saint

Calling young readers who are fans of graphic novels: an exciting new saint biography tells the story of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who’s best known for volunteering to die at a concentration camp in the place of a total stranger, and whose feast we celebrate on August 14.

Maximilian Kolbe: The Saint of Auschwitz doesn’t just tell the story of Kolbe’s death, however: it celebrates the sacrifices he made throughout his life as he sought to serve God.

Kolbe-cover-c

World War II novels are popular summer-reading assignments for schools. While many of these center on fictional characters who make heroic sacrifices, Maximilian Kolbe tells how a Polish Franciscan priest faced persecution in Europe as he protected refugees of all faiths before his arrest in 1941.

Parents and teachers need not fear that the graphic-novel format dumbs down the story or reduces its impact. I found that this book was more challenging than many middle-grade novels and biographies, with sophisticated vocabulary and plenty of visual interest. Readers can’t skim a graphic novel and expect to understand its message: it’s a very concentrated format that demands a deep level of reader attention.

The graphic novel by Jean-François Vivier, illustrated by Denoël, depicts a man who from an early age was dedicated to the Blessed Mother and entered religious life before his 17th birthday, and spent the next 30 years establishing a religious group (The Militia Immaculata), a radio station, a wartime hospital, two monasteries (one in Japan), and a religious newspaper.

Celebrate the upcoming feast day of a devoted, tireless saint with the action-packed story of his life.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Links in this article are affiliate links; your purchase benefits the author.

‘Though War Be Waged Upon Me’: Praying to St. Michael the Archangel

After the second wave of Church scandals two summers ago, my pastor requested and received permission from our bishop to lead the assembly in praying the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel after each Mass.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl around the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.

It struck me, those first weeks as we all prayed together, that there is power in this prayer.

I did not know that there is so much more to the story of St. Michael and devotion to him until I read Carol Puschaver’s Though War Be Waged Upon Me: A Saint Michael Treasury of Prayer and Reflection.

though war be waged

This booklet, only 68 pages long, details interesting saintly connections with St. Michael the Archangel as well as encouraging the faithful to make frequent recourse to him in prayer.

Ask his help!
How wonderful it is when someone turns to you with complete confidence and asks your help! They know you are capable, they entrust their need to you, and they give you a chance to shine with your God-given talents!
Recite the Prayer to St. Michael often, and seek his intercession, especially in time of danger, trial and temptation.
Ask him for the gifts of spiritual, moral and civic courage.
Ask his help to know and discern right from wrong and act accordingly. (57)

I love how this brings home the truth that we don’t need to wait for the big stuff to happen to call upon the saints for their intercession. Indeed, we shouldn’t wait. We should keep them close. We wouldn’t want our loved ones to wait for situations to get completely out of hand before asking for our help, after all.

Learn to pray the Litany to St. Michael, the St. Michael Chaplet, and other prayers listed in Though War Be Waged Upon Me, and find the best way to keep this powerful intercessor close to you.


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

On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Shadow in the Dark”

You’ll rarely hear me say that a book would make a terrific movie, but I’d say that about Shadow in the Dark, Antony Barone Kolenc’s novel for young readers. Tweens and teens who enjoy a medieval setting, plenty of action, and a good scare won’t be able to put this book down.

Synopsis: In twelfth century England, an attack by bandits in the middle of the night leaves a young boy with no memory of who he is or where he is from. Nursed back to health by the devoted monks in a Benedictine abbey, he takes the name Alexander, or Xan for short. Aided by the kindly Brother Andrew, and his best friend, Lucy, Xan commits himself to finding out who he really is. Is his family still alive? Why has God allowed so much suffering into his life? And who — or what — is the shadowy figure creeping around the abbey in the dead of night? 

The virtue of integrity is central to the story, as Xan and his friends discover which of the people around them are who they say they are and who can be trusted. This mystery story provides a fascinating glimpse inside the feudal world and the monastic life during the Middle Ages.

shadow in the dark

Shadow in the Dark is the first book in The Harwood Mysteries series by Antony Barone Kolenc and is published by Loyola Press. The author has completely revised and updated this novel from an earlier release.

Enjoy an excerpt from Shadow in the Dark:

Xan cracked open the door. Brother Oscar was nowhere in sight, but snores spilled out from his nearby cell. He slid past the monk’s door and down the steps.

Outside, the mist was getting thicker. His breath rose like wispy fog in the faint moonlight. Even with his shoes on, his feet in the wet grass felt as if they’d been frozen in a block of ice.
 
This couldn’t possibly turn out well. If the Shadow were one of the monks, he might get in trouble, perhaps even a paddling. If the Shadow were an intruder, he might get attacked. And if it were the angel of death — still a possibility — he might lose his life. After all, two times the Shadow had been seen, and both times someone had died.
 
All right, God, this may have been a bad idea. Can You help me out of this?
 
His heart was beating almost loud enough for him to hear it. Yet, in the library beneath that painting, Brother Andrew had told him not to fear death.
 
“Get your senses about you,” he said aloud, forcing himself to move through the mist.
 
He took cover at the corner of the hedge — the last place he’d seen the Shadow. Even though the wind was cutting like icicles, sweat clung to the inside of his tunic.
 
Just then, a branch cracked. A figure moved from the other end of the hedge, but it was not creeping near the trail to Lord Godfrey’s estate. It was heading up the hill toward the abbey!
 
This was the closest he’d ever been to the shadowy figure but, in all this mist, he could barely make out more detail than from the window.
 
It was dressed in a robe of dark, woolen material, the same as the monks wore. Its cowl hung so low over its head that it was impossible to tell from this distance if there was even a face beneath the hood.
 
The angel of death in his nightmare had reached with bony, skeletal hands. This figure didn’t seem to have any hands at all, unless they were tucked inside its robe.
 
Yet an object was at its side, so it must have had a hand of some sort to grasp with. Its body was blocking the object, but it appeared to be long and narrow, round and thin — a staff or reed of some kind, like the one he had seen on Brother Leo’s bed that day he’d first met the monk.
 
Xan’s paralyzed legs wouldn’t move to follow it. John was right: he must be a dotie fool to do this. What if this were that bandit, Rummy? The young boys might find his dead body crumpled in a heap on the meadow in the morning. Then they’d have nightmares for all their days.
 
Except if he went back without discovering the truth, they’d have nightmares anyway.
 
The hooded figure reached the top of the grassy hill—limping slightly, as though in pain — and headed into the granges.
 
There was no use debating anymore. Xan couldn’t go back to the dorm now without completing his mission. A crowd of young boys probably were pressed around the window slits, watching his every move. They were counting on him.
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About the author: Antony Barone Kolenc (“Tony”) retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps after 21 years of military service. He is a law professor who teaches courses on constitutional and military law and has been published in numerous journals and magazines, and he speaks at legal, writing, and homeschooling events. Tony and his family live in Jacksonville, and are the proud parents of five children and three grandchildren. His book, Shadow in the Dark, Book One in The Harwood Mysteries, is available in paperback, as an ebook, and on audible from Loyola Press.

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

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Hope Upon Impact

As a kid, I used to borrow Reader’s Digest Condensed Books from my grandmother. I skipped over the adventure novels and romances in favor of family stories, especially the family memoirs that centered on children battling serious illness or overcoming challenges due to cerebral palsy, paralysis, or other circumstances — and then there was that one particular book about the family who adopted 19 kids, most with physical challenges.

I think such books would be harder for me to read now that I’m a mom. Childish curiosity would be replaced by empathy, because I know what it’s like for moms whose children face serious illness. I am one of those moms.

I eagerly read Julie Overlease’s memoir, Hope Upon Impact, even though I knew it covered that difficult topic: a mom suffering through, praying through, and powering through her sixth-grade daughter’s traumatic brain injury (TBI) after the child was struck by a large falling tree limb.

hope upon impact

Hope Upon Impact, recently published by Paraclete Press, is a combination spiritual memoir and medical miracle story. As I read this book, the community support that the Overlease family received after Evelyn’s accident stood out to me the most. Having endured two lengthy, critical, and overlapping medical crises in my close family this fall, I recognize the little and big ways people reached out to us. The church, school, and sports communities surrounding the Overlease family definitely took care of that family in a big way, and it was uplifting to see.

At the end of the book, the author quotes a homily from a priest at her parish, Fr. Justin Hamilton:

Everything we encounter in life is exactly what God knows is best for us, no matter how disagreeable or hard it is to embrace. That’s not at all to say that some things, like losing a loved one, dealing with a chronic illness, or losing one’s job are objectively good things. Rather, God is able to take painful, challenging events like this and apply them to our lives in such a way that they are transformed into the very best thing for us, the catalyst for the deepest growth, the best way to purify our love and sharpen our faith, if only we would embrace them just like He embraced His cross. The key to this is finding God in these moments, knowing that He is always present in our lives, if only we look for Him and ask Him to reveal Himself. (181)

Hope Upon Impact is an amazing story of God’s providence, community support, and family strength.


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

An Open Book: May 2020 Reads

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:

Fiction

wartime sistersThe Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman.

5 stars (out of 5)

A lifetime of sibling rivalry comes to a head when little sister Millie and her young child arrive in Ruth’s new hometown, in need of a job and a place to live. Tired of being overshadowed by her pretty sister, Ruth refuses to break down the walls of resentment that have built up over the years, until it becomes obvious that Millie’s life is in danger. Set during World War II, at Springfield Armory in Massachusetts, where many civilians, including young mothers, worked ’round the clock on behalf of the war effort.

5th Avenue Story SocietyThe Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck.

4 stars (out of 5)

An unlikely group of people (an Uber driver, an apartment super, a literature professor behind on his PhD thesis, a cosmetics heiress, and an executive assistant with C-suite aspirations) receive mysterious invitations to a secret literary society at a local library. Curious, they all show up, and connect in ways that go far beyond literature.

Mr PenumbraMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

4 stars (out of 5)

 

Clay takes an overnight job in a hole-in-the-wall bookstore that quickly proves to be more than it initially appears. He draws upon his own technical knowledge and his roommates’ and friends’ abilities and professional contacts to uncover the mystery behind his secretive employer and the very unusual customers who frequent the shop. Well-written and will appeal to readers with technical backgrounds.

book charmerThe Book Charmer (Dove Pond #1) by Karen Hawkins.

4 stars (out of 5)

Dove Pond is an extraordinary small town that’s home to an extraordinary family, but this novel is really about another family. Planning on just a short stay, Grace, her aging foster mother who’s showing signs of dementia, and her orphaned niece move to town. Grace tries to protect her heart and remain disconnected, but the Dove sisters and other neighbors are determined to work their way in — except Trav, a physically and emotionally scarred Gulf War vet who lives next door. I’ll look for more by this author. (Netgalley review)

giver of starsThe Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes.

4 stars (out of 5)

I almost dumped this book early on. The first 3 chapters just didn’t grab me. But I’m glad I kept reading this surprising story of a British woman who married the son of a rich Kentucky mine owner and arrives in Appalachia not knowing what to expect. With a complicated relationship (central to the plot, and I won’t spoil it), she’s at odds in the household until an opportunity to help with a new WPA traveling library system arises. A compelling story of friendship, heartbreaking poverty, and a murder mystery.

 

YA/Children’s

FS front coverFire Starters by Theresa Linden.

5 stars (out of 5)

The teenage characters in Theresa Linden’s West Brothers series grapple with tough issues as they grow in faith. This novel centers on the sacrament of Confirmation, the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, and whether a person must feel ready before they can receive grace. This novel is a great read for teens in youth groups or sacrament prep. Read my full review and interview with the author.

Nonfiction

radical saintsRadical Saints by Melanie Rigney.

5 stars (out of 5)

Melanie Rigney introduces 21 saints who endured much and persevered in their commitment to God’s call in their lives. What makes these saints radical is not extreme beliefs or practices; it’s simply that they chose to love God and their neighbor without reserve. Anecdotes about Melanie’s contemporaries who embody the same values as these saints reinforce the concept that everyday women can embody the same gifts that the saints do. Let the radical saints of the 20th century inspire you to face the challenges in your lifetime. (ARC received from publisher for endorsement.)

i heard god laughI Heard God Laugh: A Practical Guide to Life’s Essential Daily Habit by Matthew Kelly.

4 stars (out of 5)

An introduction to prayer, written in an engaging style for a Catholic audience that’s not necessarily engaged in spiritual life or regular worship. (ARC provided by publisher; longer review to come. Available August 15, 2020.)

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!

open book logo


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Theresa Linden Talks About her New Novel, “Fire Starters”

The teenage characters in Theresa Linden’s West Brothers series grapple with tough issues as they grow in faith. Fire Starters centers on the sacrament of Confirmation, the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, and whether a person must feel ready before they can receive grace. This novel is a great read for teens in youth groups or sacrament prep.

FS front cover

This is the final book in the series, which includes six books for teens and one spinoff novel for adult readers. I’m such a fan of the characters in this series that I’m really sad to see it go, and I admit to hounding Theresa a bit, trying to convince her to tell more West Brothers stories.

I guess that didn’t make her too mad, because she graciously answered my questions about Fire Starters, the West Brothers, and her other projects (she’s a busy writer!).

What made you choose a Confirmation-themed book as the one to end the series?

Several things … first, I have a special love for the Holy Spirit, and this is His sacrament. Through it, we receive a deepening of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit! But both the Holy Spirit and Confirmation are often misunderstood. Maybe it’s just that we can more easily relate to the other persons of the Blessed Trinity because of family. And the signs of the other sacraments make their grace clear. I love bringing Catholic truth to life through a story, so I hope this story will help readers understand both the Holy Spirit and Confirmation at a deeper level.

Second, since the current tradition in most Catholic rites is to receive Confirmation in the teen years, I thought it would be great to focus on this sacrament in this teen fiction series. I would love for my teen readers to understand the amazing grace we receive—just as the Apostles did on Pentecost, how we become soldiers of Christ in a war between the people of God and the powers of hell, how we receive supernatural help to defend our faith and advance the Kingdom of God.

Third, as I was writing Standing Strong, the fourth book in the series, I realized that the history I’ve created over the years for the West brothers made it likely that they missed this sacrament. The boys lost their mother at a young age and their father fell away from the faith as a result. They continued to attend Mass now and then with the Digbys, their live-in housekeeper and groundskeeper, but they did not continue their faith formation. So they missed Confirmation!

I also think it works well for a final story for this teen fiction series because Confirmation equips a person to live their faith as an adult. It is the foundation for each person’s vocation. So now the West Brothers are prepared for the world and their individual vocations, even if they don’t figure them out right away.

What has surprised you most about the West Brothers series?

While I know the characters inside and out and I enjoy writing the West Brothers stories, I found myself struggling to write this last book, Fire Starters. I guess I had a bad case of writer’s block. I even started to think that I would not complete the story, that I was done with writing.

Then a friend from church had to go out of town and asked me to take over her Adoration hour for two weeks. So I did. And while I was kneeling in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, the story themes began to come to me. I went home and started writing. My writer’s block was gone! I was able to write every single day until the story was completed, and it was completed in record time.

I feel bad for this year’s Confirmation candidates because of how different things are this year. Many won’t be Confirmed by a bishop, and there will likely be a limit to the number of people that can witness their Confirmations. So I’ve dedicated Fire Starters to them, and I’m happy that the book will be released on Pentecost.

Do you have a favorite among the main characters in the series? 

When I’m writing a story, I get so deep into the point-of-view character’s head. I understand why they make their choices, what they struggle with, and what their hopes and dreams are. So they are all my favorites!

Jarret’s perspective has always been fun to write. He starts the series, in Roland West, Loner, so completely selfish and egotistical. In the second book, Life-Changing Love, he’s even worse. His poor choices hurt others, but they also hurt himself. By the end of this book, through his younger brother’s persistence, he begins to think about the consequences of his actions. He takes a big step to change a big mistake, but he’s still not a transformed character.

In the third book, Battle for His Soul, when his twin stops following his lead and his girlfriend breaks up with him, he falls into a pit of despair. This is his guardian angel’s story, and I really enjoyed showing how much his guardian angels loves him and even how his younger brother, Roland, loves him, despite his mistakes. Jarret is a bit more vulnerable in this story, and his conversion at the end is the result of a hard-fought battle that many took part in.

In Standing Strong, he faces something we all do: how do you remain faithful to God when faced with the same temptations? He’s really trying by the final book in the series, Fire Starters, but he’s a bit hard on himself. It’s been fun to show this character’s struggles and growth. Jarret brings out the best and worst in the other characters too.

One of your sons is the inspiration for a character in this book. What’s the story behind his appearance in the novel?

My youngest son, Cisco, is sixteen. He loves reading. He never returns from the library without a massive stack of books. And he’s even written a few stories of his own, Walrus vs. Aliens being his favorite. While I was brainstorming ideas for Fire Starters, he asked if he could be a character in the story. He enjoys reading and writing, why not be a character in a story too? I loved the idea!

I used Cisco’s name, appearance, and skills for this minor character that becomes friends with Roland West. They meet at a shooting range. The West brothers have always enjoyed archery and marksmanship, and my son loves shooting too. He has participated in two different junior shooters programs for years and has always been quite good at it. He’s almost reached the expert level, which is as high as he can go with those programs!

Since Cisco enjoyed being a character, I might even write him into the dystopian I’m working on. Our dog, Rudy, who passed away some months ago, will also be a character in that story.

What other projects are you working on?

While my first love is teen fiction, I also write adult fiction and children’s books. I am currently working on the artwork for the Armor of God children’s chapter book fantasy-adventure series. Book two came out this May, and I hope to release the other four books in the series as soon as possible.

I have also started another book for teens, this one a historical dystopian. I know that sounds like a strange combination, but I’m really excited about this story. It begins in the year 33 AD and jumps forward to a dystopian future.

west brothers series

Synopsis:

The moment Peter Brandt discovers archenemy Jarret West is a Confirmation candidate, the ceiling of St. Michael’s Church caves in. He soon learns none of the West brothers have received the sacrament: Keefe is looking forward to it, Roland hates drawing attention to himself, and Jarret doesn’t think he’s worthy. Before Peter gets over his shock, whispers of bad news surround him. Parishioners suspect that the parish will soon close and be merged with a neighboring, newly remodeled church.

Peter’s friend Caitlyn is anxious to help, but her life comes crashing down when her mother leaves to aid her aged parents. Now Caitlyn is homeschooling with a neighboring family and caring for her younger siblings, and she can’t see her friends at school. Peter and Caitlyn soon suspect that someone might be behind the potential closing of their church. Not one to give up easily, Caitlyn suggests the Fire Starters help with preparing the West brothers and saving the church.

Read Them All!

While you don’t have to read the entire West Brothers series before reading Fire Starters, I definitely recommend that you do! This series includes a terrific cast of characters.

The West Brothers series (in order)

Roland West, Loner
Life-Changing Love
Battle for His Soul
Standing Strong
Roland West, Outcast
Fire Starters

 

Adult Spinoff from the West Brothers Series

Anyone But Him

anyone but hi

Visit TheresaLinden.com to learn more.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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