bookshelf with Catholic fiction titles

On My Bookshelf: Adoration for Beginners (and everyone else)

Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Eucharistic Adoration is much more than a guidebook about a particular type of devotion. This new book by Merridith Frediani, published by Our Sunday Visitor, begins with an explanation about Adoration that is definitely not for beginners only. Not every parish or Adoration Chapel offers advice or instruction on customary prayer practices associated with this devotion, so you’ll find that this book fills in those gaps in a helpful way.

Draw Close to Jesus cover

Merridith explains in the Introduction to this book why it’s addressed specifically to women:

In adoration we approach God as women and pause in these tasks to acknowledge that God calls us in the deep core of our hearts. He wants us to come to him and rest. We do not need to bring anything. He knows the world is pulling at us and can be overwhelming. He knows we make mistakes, and he keeps inviting. When we come to him, we open ourselves to the one who loves us most deeply. (12)

I like to bring a journal to Adoration with me, and the short reflections in the middle of this book are perfect jumping-off places for spiritual journaling. Each reflection is brief (about two pages in length) and most are based on Scripture. At the end of the reflection, there is a “to do” item — not one that’s going to stress you out by adding more to an already overflowing list, but a spiritual action — and an invitation “to go deeper,” which notes a Scripture passage and offers a prayer prompt for contemplation and journaling. You don’t have to go through these start to finish; the book is made for readers to pick and choose the theme for their prayer.

At the end of Draw Close to Jesus, you’ll find what Merridith calls “a Catholic toolbox to rescue you when prayer just won’t seem to come” (128). There are instructions on praying the Rosary (which I find to be a good way to ease into Adoration, as the repetition of the prayers helps clear my mind of the to-do lists that distract me); the Memorare, the Litany of Trust and Litany of Humility, novenas, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Of course, any of these prayers can be prayed at any time (not just during Adoration) but it’s handy to have them right there if you’d like to make them part of your prayer routine.

monstrance in Adoration chapel

After keeping a weekly holy hour for more than five years, I can say that no two adorers approach this devotion the same way. In fact, I don’t approach all my holy hours the same way. But there’s useful material in Draw Close to Jesus, whether you begin your Adoration time with a Rosary or end it by reading the Bible. This book has earned its place beside my journal, pen, and holy cards in my Adoration tote bag.

Draw Close to Jesus is available for preorder now and releases Friday, August 13.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Photo copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.

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.

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On My Bookshelf: Saints, Parenting, and Family Finance

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Today, I’m taking a look at 6 new books on the topics of saints, parenting, and family finance.

Pray Along with Married Saints

If you and your spouse are looking for a different way to pray together, try this new devotional by Kent and Kaitlin Lasnoski. 30 Days with Married Saints: a Catholic Couples’ Devotional includes a month’s worth of reflections inspired by the Holy Family and eleven saintly couples or individuals who evangelized by example.

The married saints passionately loved their spouses, delighted in their children, opened their homes to strangers, gave generously to others, and lived an intense piety. They also managed to find joy amid their day’s equivalents of dirty diapers, dishes, laundry, cubicles, traffic, and office meetings. They were the salt and light of the world and the presence of the risen Christ to those who met them (see Mt 5:13-16). Now from heaven these married saints continually intercede for the faithful’s intentions, including for your marriage. Through their example and prayers, may the married saints lead us to Christ! (4-5)

Each daily section (5 to 10 pages) includes an opening prayer, a reflection inspired by a saint or saintly couple, suggestions for spiritual practice, and a closing prayer. This book would make a wonderful gift for an engaged couple, newlyweds, or to celebrate a wedding anniversary. Available from Pauline Books & Media.

 

What Is Good Catholic Parenting, Anyway?

Mark and Melanie Hart explain in Our Not-Quite-Holy Family: A Practical Guide for Catholic Parents that there’s no one way to be a good parent. This is an honest and often clever look at what family life is really like, written by a couple with children in college, high school, middle school, and elementary school. In this book’s seven chapters, the authors discuss proactive parenting, dealing with extended family, marital intimacy, creating a domestic church, prayer, screen time, and raising future saints. Each chapter includes a prayer and a number of practical steps you and your spouse can take to meet your ultimate parenting goal: leading each other, and your children, to heaven.

Remember the goal of your parenting is to raise well-formed young souls. If you see your spouse beginning to lose their temper in a situation, look at them and simply say, “Remember the goal.” God has entrusted these souls to you for a reason. You are capable of more than you think you are with the help of his grace (13).

You’ll also find an appendix packed with prayers and devotions for couples and families, and short testimonials from 5 Catholic families. Available from Ave Maria Press.

 

A Deep Dive into Catholic Parenting

Conor Gallagher’s Parenting for Eternity: A Guide to Raising Children in Holy Mother Church takes a look at how parents can direct their efforts toward saving their children’s souls. This book is not a light read, and it seems to be geared to parents of younger children; the writing style is decidedly old-fashioned (if I hadn’t seen the 2021 copyright date, I’d have pegged the book to have been written at least 65 years earlier). If you are a fan of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen’s work, this parenting book is for you.

As a parent, you must examine your conscience: do you give greater attention to your child’s physical or spiritual well-being? Have you gone to great lengths to construct your entire life around your child’s health, education, social life, and sports so they can be well-rounded, productive, and successful citizens? A resounding yes comes to mind. But have you given even 10 percent of such effort to their spiritual formation? Have you considered Heaven and hell 10 percent as much as you consider wordly success for your growing child? (3-4)

Chapters discuss the Four Last Things, piety, humility, the Church, Our Lady and the saints, awareness of the angelic and demonic, and the School of Calvary. You’ll also find four appendices that include Christ’s warnings about hell, prayers and novena for the holy souls, the Angelus, and a prayer for your child’s vocation. Available from TAN Books.

 

Beatitudes-Based Healing for Parents

In All Things New: Breaking the Cycle and Raising a Joyful Family, Erin McCole Cupp reaches out to parents who don’t feel equipped for the task because they didn’t have good parenting models as they grew up. If your childhood was marked by dysfunction, difficulty, and a lack of nurturing, you’re not doomed to repeat that scenario with your own family — you need a new parenting toolkit than the one you were provided.

We know what not to do. But God is a good father, and he knows that we need more than directions on the negative. He knows we need directions on what to do instead. That is why, in preparing to give us the new covenant of his blood on the cross, Jesus first climbed a mountain, sat his people down, and gave them directions on how to live within the boundaries of freedom. In other words, in the Sermon on the Mount, he gave us the Beatitudes. He gave us a new script. (76)

This book is not designed only for parents just starting out. Of course, parents of newborns or expectant parents will benefit from the information and encouragement in All Things New, but parents of children of any age (even young adults) can learn strategies for forgiving, trusting (where appropriate), making emotional connections, practicing gratitude, and more parenting skills of the kind those regular parenting books don’t teach you — because they assume you learned them during your formative years.

 

The Parents Behind the Holy Cards

Are you raising a future saint? Get your parenting inspiration from Patrick O’Hearn’s new collective biography, Parents of the Saints: The Hidden Heroes Behind Our Favorite Saints. O’Hearn tells the stories of more than 100 parents whose children became saints. The book is organized by seven hallmarks of holiness: sacramental life (including Our Lady), surrender, sacrificial love, suffering, simplicity, solitude, and sacredness of life.

Behind every holy card, image, and statue of the saints lies the story of a person who came from a father and mother. It is within this school of love, this domestic church, where most saints learned to pray, love, and receive the mustard seed of faith, which, in time, developed into heroic virtue (3).

Some narratives are longer than others; Louis and Zélie Martin’s story spans 15 pages, while Karol and Emilia Wojtila’s is a single page long. The book can be read straight through, or you can pick and choose as you go. No matter what order you read about these saints, you’ll be inspired and edified by their lives and example. Available from TAN Books.

 

Setting Financial Goals, Catholic Style

A Catholic Guide to Spending Less and Living More: Advice from a Debt-Free Family of 16 by Sam and Rob Fatzinger took me back to the early days of my marriage, when we lived on one income and I scoured The Tightwad Gazette (borrowed from the library, of course!) for money-saving tips as my financial contribution to the family. Not only does this book contain plenty of tips that families (or singles) can use regardless of their family situation, it also simplifies some basic financial concepts and offers spiritual insight about how we use our money.

Do you want God to give you the strength to avoid going further into debt? How about skipping a meal? Or giving up dessert for a week? Maybe you have a thing for sugary coffees; could you go a few days drinking black coffee? Or, dare I say, no coffee at all? Offer a prayer with each short fast for an increase in the virtues that will help you avoid overspending (65).

Sam and Rob Fatzinger share their own stories of figuring out the best ways to save money and stay out of debt while living on one income. Recommended especially for newly married couples and singles starting out on their own. Available from Ave Maria Press.


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!

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

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Journal Your Way Through Big Changes

In Menopause Moments: a journal for nourishing your mind, body and spirit in midlife, Melanie Rigney explores menopause with compassion. Melanie encourages women not to view the physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges of menopause as setbacks, inviting readers instead to laugh a little, to find ways to be grateful amid physical and emotional turbulence, and to practice self-care.

This journal is packed with gentle, practical tips for embracing and contemplating God’s plan in this season of life. Use it as you like: a section a day, a section a week, go through it here and there as you need it — the design is open-ended enough for you to switch it up as you like.

From the Preface:

This journal’s purpose is to show you you’re never alone, and maybe to make you laugh a little. There’s a short reflection for each entry, along with a verse to contemplate, an action item, and a spark for reflecting or praying. You can start with day one, or thumb through to find the page you need that particular day. Either way, I hope you feel refreshed and more confident in your future, yourself, and your faith. (viii)

When I was slammed into instant menopause due to major surgery at age 46, keeping a sense of humor is one of the things that got me through. In some ways I was lucky, as I knew what was coming, though the severity and frequency of symptoms varied day by day. I remember begging my husband to add a room with a walk-in freezer to the back of my house so I could stand in there during hot flashes. (The poor guy. He had no idea what was coming. Melanie might need to start working on a companion journal for husbands with menopausal wives.)

My vision of self-care often involves M&Ms and never involves manicures. But one of my favorite parts of Menopause Moments is the Action section in each chapter. Some actions are concrete things you can do to help yourself or others: change up (or begin) an exercise routine, helping an elder relative or friend find ways to give of themselves, memorizing a favorite Scripture passage, and, yes, hosting a manicure night with friends. Journaling along with Menopause Moments is one of the best self-care practices a woman can begin during this life-changing experience.

Learn more about Melanie Rigney and her writing and speaking at MelanieRigney.com.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Featured image: Visme
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free copy of this book for review and endorsement purposes, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Beatitudes-Based Healing for Parents

In All Things New: Breaking the Cycle and Raising a Joyful Family, Erin McCole Cupp reaches out to parents who don’t feel equipped for the task because they didn’t have good parenting models as they grew up. If your childhood was marked by dysfunction, difficulty, and a lack of nurturing, you’re not doomed to repeat that scenario with your own family — you need a new parenting toolkit than the one you were provided.

We know what not to do. But God is a good father, and he knows that we need more than directions on the negative. He knows we need directions on what to do instead. That is why, in preparing to give us the new covenant of his blood on the cross, Jesus first climbed a mountain, sat his people down, and gave them directions on how to live within the boundaries of freedom. In other words, in the Sermon on the Mount, he gave us the Beatitudes. He gave us a new script. (76)

Drawing on the Beatitudes as means to help parents fill in the gap between their wounded pasts and their hopeful futures, Erin offers strategies for setting boundaries, moving forward, and personal growth. Each chapter includes a prayer and an inspiring story of a saint who persevered despite being wounded by those who were supposed to love them.

This book is not designed only for parents just starting out. Of course, parents of newborns or expectant parents will benefit from the information and encouragement in All Things New, but parents of children of any age (even young adults) can learn strategies for forgiving, trusting (where appropriate), making emotional connections, practicing gratitude, and more parenting skills of the kind those regular parenting books don’t teach you — because they assume you learned them during your formative years.

All Things New is an invitation to begin again; this book is an invitation to hope.

For more information

Visit ErinMcColeCupp.com to sign up for Erin’s free newsletter, read weekly blog posts, and find links to Erin’s speaking apostolate — plus more.

Follow Erin on Instagram (especially the Stories) for helpful reinforcement on your journey toward being a break-the-cycle parent. 


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image: Stencil Pro
This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author. I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

books on a bookshelf

On My Bookshelf: Close to the Soul

Could a summer read set in the late 1950s through early 1960s shed light on a topic of current national debate? Surprisingly, yes. Mary Jo Thayer’s debut novel, Close to the Soul, released in May by Full Quiver Publishing, is the story of a young woman from a devout Catholic family whose own dreams (as well as her parents’ dreams for her) are shattered after a sexual assault at a high-school event.

This novel’s publication couldn’t be better timed. As a high-school valedictorian basks in her 15 minutes of fame for her support of unlimited abortion rights in her home state, noting, “I am terrified that if I am raped, then my hopes and aspirations and dreams and efforts for my future will no longer matter,” we need to affirm to our teens and young adults that abortion is not the solution it’s made out to be.

This is exactly the aim of Close to the Soul. Carolyn Fandel’s story is proof that while unplanned pregnancies — even pregnancies that are the result of sexual assault — do change the course and direction of women’s lives, they need not ruin women’s lives. With support and sacrifice, women can still achieve their dreams — or they can channel their abilities and energies into realizing new and different dreams, beyond their own expectations.

In Close to the Soul, Carolyn is blessed with the support of her parents, siblings, and extended family. She discovers that not every woman in her situation has that family support as a resource, but she also discovers that support is out there and that she can help make it available. A friend’s confession shocks Carolyn with the revelation that some parents not only don’t support their unexpectedly pregnant daughters, but force them to abort their unborn children. This spurs Carolyn to want to help women in crisis pregnancies. Their futures do matter, and while their futures might not look like what they’d originally planned, that doesn’t mean their futures are any less worthwhile.

Close to the Soul can lead to much-needed conversations between mothers and daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters, aunts and nieces, and among friends as women ponder ways they can support each other rather than rushing toward expedient solutions with devastating consequences.


Copyright 2021 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.

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On my bookshelf: May 2021 Reads

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

Fiction

In a Far-Off Land by Stephanie Landsem. Such an excellent novel! Stephanie Landsem places themes from the Parable of the Prodigal Son in 1930s-era Hollywood in this compelling tale of ambition, glamor that’s all on the surface, family loyalty, and forgiveness. While aspiring starlet Minerva Sinclaire is meant to be the star of the show, I was much more fascinated by the two young men, Oscar and Max, who opened themselves to considerable risk in order to protect and help her. 5 stars.

Songs for Clara by Larry Denninger. Family secrets, longtime grudges, musical mysteries, and pretty girls in the 1980s equivalent of the friend zone … this debut novel puts it all together. A young music teacher discovers a packet of sheet music in his childhood home, but his estranged father (the composer) has dementia and can’t share the details of the mystery woman, Clara, to whom the work is dedicated. Frank endangers his relationship with his sister, his bandmates, and the two women who compete for his affection as he endeavors to solve the mystery. 5 stars.

When I Last Saw You by Bette Less Crosby. In this split-timeline story, a recent widow hires a private detective to track down the family members she’d lost touch with decades before when her mother had to split up the children in order to survive. Her mother’s story of betrayal by her husband and being left to a hardscrabble life with eight children is a tragic counterpoint to the story of a slowly reunited family and a chance at new love. Don’t miss this one! 5 stars.

Hadley Beckett’s Next Dish by Bethany Turner. If you like Food Network shows, this romance is for you. Southern chef Hadley competes against the bad-boy New Yorker for a coveted spot: her own season of a special show highlighting the best chefs. Her grace under pressure while Max throws a tantrum during the final round seems to seal the deal – but then the producers decide it will make better TV to pit the two against each other. 4 stars.

The Oysterville Sewing Circle by Susan Wiggs. After a career-imploding situation in New York City, up-and-coming fashion designer Caroline’s world changes when her close friend and favorite model dies suddenly and Caroline is entrusted with the care of her two small children. She returns to coastal Washington state to stay with family and, as a way of making up for her lack of awareness of her friend’s situation as a victim of domestic violence, starts a small business and support group for local domestic violence victims. 5 stars.

YA/Children’s

Lucia of Fatima (Brave Hearts #3) by Kathryn Griffin Swegart. Excellent introduction to the story of the apparitions at Fatima for kids ages 10 and up. Told from the point of view of Lucia, who was 10 years old when the Blessed Mother first appeared to her and her younger cousins at Fatima, this historical novel gives readers a look into what it was like for the young visionary and how her life was changed afterward. The author, a gifted storyteller, skillfully portrayed each scene. The story brings home the message that you are never too young to follow God’s call. Written for ages 10 and up, but would be a good read-aloud for age 7 and up. 

Nonfiction

Behold This Heart by Fr. Thomas Dailey, OSFS. Fr. Dailey begins the book with chapters on the Salesian Backstory (the history and traditions of the Order) and Salesian Prayer. This chapter contained fascinating information on the iconography of the Sacred Heart and its depictions in art prior to the time of St. Margaret Mary — and how her own drawings and letters have affected depictions of the Sacred Heart since her lifetime. Throughout the book there are many beautiful images of the Sacred Heart to contemplate as you read and pray. Review copy received from the publisher. Read my full review at CatholicMom.com.

Simple Mercies: How the Works of Mercy bring Peace and Fulfillment by Lara Patangan, provides practical, do-able ways to live the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy in your family and community. In each chapter, Lara begins with a quote that sets the tone for the chapter, then discusses the kinds of opportunities for experiencing a particular Work of Mercy in our own lives, families, work, church and communities. God is never left out of the equation, as Lara frequently references the graces God gives us to carry out works of mercy in His name, with love. Later in each chapter, you’ll find a section titled “Mercy Works: Try It” which lists ideas for applying each Work of Mercy in your family, community, and personal relationship with God. Chapters conclude with reflection questions (perfect for journaling on your own, or for discussion at your book club or parish faith-sharing group), and a concluding prayer. Review copy received from the publisher. Read my full review.


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

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

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

Visit 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 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Living the Works of Mercy

Lara Patangan’s new book, Simple Mercies: How the Works of Mercy Bring Peace and Fulfillment, provides practical, do-able ways to live the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy in your family and community.

We have the tendency to think too small when we think about the Works of Mercy – or maybe we’re thinking too big? We look at some of them and think we can’t possibly do things like Visiting the Imprisoned, and that the 42,578th sippy cup of water we’ve just handed to our toddler doesn’t count as Giving Drink to the Thirsty.

The thing is: we don’t have to make a big splash when we do a Work of Mercy. Filling yet another sippy cup, sharing your child’s outgrown but gently-used clothes with a family for their younger children, bringing a plate of cookies to a new neighbor, and praying for the repose of the soul of a friend’s parent might seem like small things to us (the doer) but they have big meaning for the receiver.

A couple of years ago, two close family members had medical crises, one on top of the other. I was spending part of the week helping my parents handle the situation there, more than 100 miles from my own family, where another situation was unfolding. My husband let me know that friends had started just showing up with hot dinners in their hands. That pan of lasagna fed us for a couple of meals so we didn’t have to think about shopping and cooking — and I know that our friends were happy to do this and would say, “Oh, it was nothing.” Truly, it was not nothing. It was a big thing. 

Corporal Works of Mercy

Corporal Works of Mercy are very concrete ways of being a living sign of God’s love in the world, but concrete doesn’t have to be complicated. Consider these ideas to try with your family:

  • If your children are old enough, designate someone to be the server each night, and give them the special task of waiting on others. (Feed the Hungry)
  • Raise money for an organization that provides clean drinking water. (Give Drink to the Thirsty)
  • Encourage your children to get involved by adopting a family at Christmas or donating backpacks at the beginning of a school year. (Clothe the Naked)
  • Collect socks, underwear, and toiletries to help with [the] basic needs [of the homeless]. (Shelter the Homeless)
  • Have [children] make a homemade card, take over the chores of those who don’t feel well, and ask sick family members how they can best comfort them. (Visit the Sick)
  • Visit the homebound, those in nursing homes, and the lonely. (Visit the Imprisoned)
  • Teach your children to attend funerals, send sympathy cards, and make meals for the bereaved. (Bury the Dead)

Spiritual Works of Mercy

Similarly, Lara’s breakdowns of the Spiritual Works of Mercy demonstrate how we can involve our families in living these Works of Mercy in creative ways:

  • Encourage your children to speak up for those who can’t advocate for themselves. (Admonish the Sinner)
  • Do a family Bible study, saint of the week, or watch a religious movie together and discuss it. (Instruct the Ignorant)
  • Demonstrate how you turn to God during difficult times and seek friends who listen with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. (Counsel the Doubtful)
  • Help (family members) facilitate a random act of kindness for someone else that will spread joy to their own heart. (Comfort the Sorrowful)
  • Point out times when (your children) are being patient or someone is being patient with them. (Bear Wrongs Patiently)
  • Teach your children how to make a good apology. (Forgive Injuries)
  • Keep a prayer list for family members’ special intentions. (Pray for the Living and the Dead)

In each chapter of Simple Mercies, Lara begins with a quote that sets the tone for the chapter, then discusses the kinds of opportunities for experiencing a particular Work of Mercy in our own lives, families, work, church and communities. God is never left out of the equation, as Lara frequently references the graces God gives us to carry out works of mercy in His name, with love. Later in each chapter, you’ll find a section titled “Mercy Works: Try It” which lists ideas for applying each Work of Mercy in your family, community, and personal relationship with God. Chapters conclude with reflection questions (perfect for journaling on your own, or for discussion at your book club or parish faith-sharing group), and a concluding prayer.

Lara observes, 

The works of mercy aren’t just another gimmick. They are game-changers. When I tried these works of mercy as an alternative to the creed of the secular world, I found less striving, less busying, less dissatisfaction, less emptiness, and more time for my relationship with God, my family, and the people I love. I found more meaning, more compassion, and more clarity than I’d ever found in anything the world offered. (196-97)

If you want to know how to make small changes in your life that have a big impact on others, read this book.

Simple Mercies is available from Our Sunday Visitor. Download the free study guide with discussion questions you can use on your own or with friends to explore the Works of Mercy in more depth.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image: Stencil

This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links benefits my work. Thanks!

books on a bookshelf

On my bookshelf: April 2021 Reads

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

I am about ready to declare Goodreads bankruptcy over here. I’m just not keeping up.

Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading (which includes a ridiculous number of books about people grieving the loss of a parent or grandparent):

Fiction

The Traveling Prayer Shawl by Jennifer Lynn Cary. 4 stars. Cami’s beloved grandmother (who raised her after her parents’ death) dies and leaves instructions that Cami must complete a project in order for the will to be read. She and her cousin, a longtime rival who is the only other living family member, have no idea what the will contains – and Cami’s project timetable mirrors one for an ad campaign at work that turns out to be inextricably connected with the project her grandmother left for her. A great read about priorities and the meaning of family. I’ll look for more by this author.

The Letters of Magdalen Montague by Eleanor Bourg NIcholson. 4 stars. An epistolary novel that opens shortly after the turn of the 20th century and features the delightfully cynical voice of “J,” who pens occasional letters to the anti-religious “R” about his growing obsession with the equally mysterious Magdalen Montague. This obsession leads him to rethink his Church-of-England views on Catholicism and change the course of his life. The perks of preordering this ebook directly from the publisher, Chrism Books (a new Catholic imprint of WhiteFire Publishing), meant that I didn’t want to wait until the June 1 publication date to read the book!

Close to the Soul by Mary Jo Thayer. 4 stars. This novel provides a close look at the impact of out-of-wedlock pregnancy on a devout Catholic family in the late 1950s. Carolyn’s mom and her great-aunt were terrific supporting characters. It’s a fascinating story with an uplifting (and surprising) end. (Advance reader copy provided by publisher; available now)

An Observant Wife by Naomi Ragen. 4 stars. Leah, a convert to orthodox Judaism, begins her married life in an insular Brooklyn neighborhood, and learns that it’s not that easy to live that kind of life. She takes a big risk (and pulls in the rest of the family with her) when her teen stepdaughter briefly rebels, then suffers trauma after a forbidden relationship. Turns out this book is a sequel to An Unorthodox Match, which I had not read – but the story is well told enough that I didn’t need to. (Netgalley review; book releases in September)

All That Really Matters by Nicole Deese. 5 stars. I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed this novel about a social-media beauty and fashion influencer, because I am not talented at either of these! The main character, Molly, turns out to be delightfully not shallow as she embarks on an adventure in volunteering at a transitional program for teens aging out of the foster care system. She makes errors in judgment along the way, grows from her mistakes, and becomes an influencer in the best sense of the term.

Is It Any Wonder by Courtney Walsh. 4 stars. Louisa’s event-planning company is hired to plan a fundraiser for the local Coast Guard station, which needs to build its reputation among the community. That’s when she discovers that her former boyfriend, whom she has not seen in more than a decade, has recently been stationed there and he’s assigned to the committee for the event. As the two of them approach their shared 30th birthday, which had been the subject of a teenage pact between them, they work through their common survivor’s guilt over the death of Cody’s father, which had broken up the two and driven a wedge between their families.

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl. 5 stars. Fans of Reichl’s memoirs will love her fiction debut, the story of a young magazine employee in her first grownup job in New York City. From her very first day, when Billie undergoes an unusual test of her fitness for the job, to the close of the magazine and Billie’s moonlighting at a local cheese shop while she remains the sole on-site employee, fulfilling a long-standing guarantee and (unbeknownst to her employer) solving a mystery that involves a secret room filled with correspondence, there’s a wonderfully eccentric cast of characters moving the story along. If you’re interested in food, you’ll love this novel.

YA/Children’s

You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao. 5 stars, but you’ll have to wait until the book releases in November. One of the best YA books I’ve read in a long time. Julie blames herself for her boyfriend’s accidental death and tries to cope by getting rid of everything that reminds her of him. Her grief is pretty raw, and she puts herself into some pretty risky situations. Then she discovers that she can call his cell phone – and he answers. Sam helps her (and some other friends) work through their grief and survivor’s guilt. The book is labeled for ages 12-18 but I think 12 is a little young for this. (Netgalley review)

Everywhere, Always by Jennifer Ann Shore. 4 stars. After Avery and her single mom are involved in a car accident, Avery realizes her mom is dead before she loses consciousness and wakes up in an out-of-state hospital, only to learn that her father, whom she never knew, owns the hospital – and she has a half-brother the same age. As she recovers, she begins to bond with the family she never knew and take steps toward her dreams of working in the medical field even as she tries to deal with her own grief and her romantic interest in one of her brother’s best friends.

Nonfiction

The Miracle & Tragedy of the Dionne Quintuplets by Sarah Miller. 4 stars. I’ve been captivated by the story of the first set of quintuplets to survive infanty since I was a kid. This book provided a lot more information than the autobiography We Were Five, which I read years ago. It’s an in-depth look at the quintuplets’ early lives through their teens, and then a more cursory biography of their adulthood. There’s a lot of focus on financial matters and the quints’ growing awareness of their own celebrity.

A Catholic Guide to Spending Less and Living More: Advice from a Debt-Free Family of 16 by Sam and Rob Fatzinger. 4 stars. This book took me back to the early days of my marriage, when we lived on one income and I scoured The Tightwad Gazette (borrowed from the library, of course!) for money-saving tips as my financial contribution to the family. Not only does this book contain plenty of tips that families (or singles) can use regardless of their family situation, it also simplifies some basic financial concepts and offers spiritual insight about how we use our money. Sam and Rob Fatzinger share their own stories of figuring out the best ways to save money and stay out of debt while living on one income. Recommended especially for newly married couples and singles starting out on their own. (Advance review copy received from the publisher, Ave Maria Press; available now)


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

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

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

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

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Travels in Search of the Saints

Traveling around the world seems like only a pipe dream as we slog through a second year of pandemic restrictions and lockdowns. Although we can’t travel wherever we’d like right now, there’s nothing to stop us from reading about it. Readers who misses traveling will thoroughly enjoy Mary Lea Carroll’s two saintly travelogues, Saint Everywhere and Somehow Saints.

Saint Everywhere: Travels in Search of the Lady Saints begins with the story of a trip to Italy in the year 2000. After spending several days touring battlefields, Carroll convinced her husband and daughter to take a side trip to Siena to view the relics of St. Catherine — and she was hooked. Carroll enthusiastically summarized St. Catherine of Siena’s life and accomplishments.

I pondered in the dark this whole implausible tale of St. Catherine. Do I believe it? It’s hard to say yes. But I want to believe. Life seems bigger, grander, more fun if you believe that a person can have mystical powers. That one woman can quell a war. (29)

Subsequent travels took Carroll to places as diverse as Prague, New York City (more than once), Colorado, Bosnia, Mexico City, and Spain. She pondered St. Elizabeth Seton’s influence on Catholic education and her challenging life of suffering, recounted her pilgrimage to see the tilma with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and discovered that a quote from St. Teresa of Ávila would be an apt reminder as she waited in line at the DMV. And she considered her own motherhood in the light of the Blessed Mother’s visit to Guadalupe.

Thinking about Guadalupe, who appeared as the mother of us all, the one we can turn to when we’re afraid or when things turn awful, makes me realize how few women can actually be that type of mother. I never confided in my mother because she’d just judge and correct me. My grandmother, who lived with us, was so vain that she wouldn’t lift a finger around the house, driving my mother nuts. Me, of course, I’m perfect. Well, maybe I care a little too much about some things and get a little uptight sometimes. My girls call it “going crazy on them.” But I’ve tried to do my best, just as my mother did her best. We all continually try. Falling short and feeling bad is part of our lot. But humanity’s been given a gift in the idea of Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, who infinitely does not judge, who infinitely says just keep trying, who infinitely advises us to turn to her Son. (125)

Somehow Saints; More Travels in Search of the Saintly finds Carroll sharing more stories and insights from her travels. She begins the book with her trip to Philadelphia to visit the tomb of St. Katharine Drexel in the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul. St. Katharine’s extraordinary life and work inspired Carroll to consider the frustrations we experience as mothers, the saint’s contribution to the Church’s work against racism and other injustices, and St. Katharine’s emphasis on Eucharistic Adoration.

Further travels took Carroll on visits to upstate New York to the shrine of St. Kateri Tekakwitha; to St. Marie of the Incarnation’s shrine and the Shrine of St. Anne de Beaupré at Quebec, Canada; Emmitsburg, Maryland to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s shrine; to New York City to see the resting place of Bl. Pierre Touissant; to St. Brigid’s shrine in Kildare, Ireland; and finally to Venice, Italy, to the tomb of St. Josephine Bakhita.

In each place, she considered how she should pray for saintly intercession.

What would I want to pray to St. Anne for? I knelt down. How about ever more strength and the desire to do and be more? And for my own motherhood, even though my daughters are grown up. Help me be what’s needed now; help me to offer good advice and to keep my mouth shut. Help me to both be there and not be in their way. I prayed for possibly being a grandmother—to be a magical, fun, fairy grandmother. A grandmother who’ll bring out a box of treasures, who’ll take them on trains, who’ll have the patience for loud noise, who won’t be too tired. (81)

This book also contains shorter selections that focus on the heroic efforts of people Carroll knows in person: living women, saints in the making.

Mary Lea Carroll’s books are not fancy travel guides. They’re memoirs of journeys of the soul and reminders how the lives of the saints can inspire us in little ways. They’re stories of memories (good and bad) told with relatable honesty and humor. Maybe, when we can freely travel again, we’ll take inspiration from Mary Lea Carroll and begin our own journeys to visit shrines of the saints along the way.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz; photo copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.

This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author. 

bookshelf with Catholic fiction titles

On My Bookshelf: March 2021 Reads

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

Fiction

Veiled in Smoke (The Windy City Saga Book 1) by Jocelyn Green. I read the series out of order, though book 2 was written well enough that I didn’t even realize it was part of a series until I was well into the story. It takes place in Chicago at the time of the Great Fire, and tells the story of two sisters caring for their widowed father, who suffers PTSD from his time in a Civil War military prison. One thing that seemed odd: the family owns a bookstore with a cafe in it. That’s not something I think of when I think of the late 1800s.

Half a Heart by Karen McQuestion. A heartbreaking story of a 9-year-old boy suffering abuse at the hands of his dad, and who misses his maternal grandmother. Told she has died, Logan seizes an opportunity to escape, and finds a way to survive alone, while Grandma Nan frantically searches for him. Great peripheral characters make this a wonderful story.

Not Until Now (Hope Springs Book 8) by Valerie M. Bodden. Paraplegic Kayla happens upon a car wreck and rescues a child whose mother needs hospitalization. Kayla wants to help the little girl, and must convince the child’s uncle, who had been estranged from his sister due to her struggles with addiction, to commit to caring for her. Part of a linked series but can be read as a standalone.

The Restoration of Celia Fairchild by Marie Bostwick. When an advice columnist loses her job in New York, she returns to Charleston, planning to unload an estate left to her by an aunt. But the house is in far worse shape than she’d realized, and she needs it to pass inspection so she can be approved to adopt a child. Celia and some new friends and neighbors work to clean out the house (Celia’s aunt had been a hoarder) and renovate it. Very enjoyable story.

A whole bunch of shorter Christian romances by Jennifer Rodewald: the entire Murphy Brothers series: Always You, In Spite of Ourselves, Everything Behind Us, and This Life. Good stories, quick reads, about a (mostly) close-knit family. In several of them, the brothers meet and fall for their future wives in strange (and often unrealistic) circumstances. But it’s fun reading.

YA/Children’s

I got on a classic children’s-book kick thanks to a conversation with a friend, so I read Little Plum by Rumer Godden and then followed it up with my all-time favorite of her children’s books, The Diddakoi. Some things never change, I guess: both books deal with the topics of bullying and friendship. Little Plum is the story of an active family living next door to a vacant house, and the difficulties of making friends with the new little girl on the block, whose mother is hospitalized. In The Diddakoi, a gypsy child who is continually bullied by her schoolmates is alone after the death of her grandmother, and the citizens of a town who never welcomed her must arrange for her care.

Bubbles by Abby Cooper has a terrific premise that I’d find a little terrifying: 12-year-old Sophie discovers that sometimes she can see what other people are thinking. Their thoughts appear above their heads in little cartoon bubbles. While she sometimes finds it useful, she discovers that it just adds to the stress she’s already experiencing: her mom’s recent breakup and job loss (both of which she blames herself for), friendship issues, and finding out that her best friend likes the same boy she does.

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord. A fun takeoff on You’ve Got Mail, but with high-school students, Twitter, and the New York City restaurant scene. Pepper’s parents have her running the social media for their fast-food chain. Jack goes to the same school, frequently drives Pepper crazy, and helps out at his family’s deli. It all gets ugly when Pepper’s family is accused of stealing a secret recipe from Jack’s family, and all during a social-media duel, Pepper and Jack make an anonymous connection online through a secret school app. (For older teens and adults.)

The Truth About Romantic Comedies by Sean C. McMurray. A romance written from a teenage boy’s point of view is already different – and this story was excellent. Timothy lives in a trailer park with his mother (a nurse) and grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s and cancer. He meets Rachel when she accompanies her mother to radiation treatments. When they learn that Rachel’s family will be moving soon, the two decide on an experiment to put every rom-com cliche to the test, with unexpected results. (For older teens and adults.)


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!