On Barb’s Bookshelf: A Family Rosary Book

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Praying the Rosary with children is not without its challenges. When I was substitute-teaching, the children in the primary grades would frequently lose their places because they would drop their rosaries, or fiddle with the beads (or knots) so much that their fingers would move to a different bead. It was all part of the adventure, I thought, and since I was distracted myself, trying to maintain order and a prayerful atmosphere, I figured there was no way around it.

Jerry Windley-Daoust of Gracewatch Media found a creative — and beautiful — way to solve this problem. The Complete Illuminated Rosary is the coffee-table book of Rosary guides. This book is meant to bring parents and children together to pray the Rosary — no beads necessary.

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This large-format book (it measures 8 1/2 x 11″) offers a page or two per prayer for the entire Rosary. Simply turn the page to progress to the next “bead.” At the beginning of each mystery, there is a short selection from the Gospels that corresponds to that mystery, along with a note at the bottom of the page prompting the prayer leader (parent or older child) to ask for prayer intentions. On each “Hail Mary” page, you’ll find a row of beads depicted at the bottom: one for the first “Hail Mary” in the decade, and so on, in case you do want to follow along on a real Rosary.

“Why is it ‘illuminated’?” a friend asked when she saw this book on my coffee table. This is what makes the book truly unique. Every single “bead” in this book is depicted by a beautiful work of sacred art, from a wide variety of styles. You’ll find work by El Greco, Delacroix, Caravaggio, Frangelico, and Rubens, plus present-day artists Jen Norton, Brother Michael “Mickey” O’Neill McGrath, and Andrei Mironov — among many, many others. An art-credits section at the end of the book explains the source of every painting, drawing, or stained-glass window. The art in the book, all by itself, can lead you to prayer.

Gracewatch Media offers the Illuminated Rosary in three formats: paperback, hardcover, and in separate books for each mystery. Securing the rights to use some art that is not in the public domain, plus publishing in full color in a large format, contribute to the cost of this book (as of this writing, $49.49 on Amazon for the paperback), but this book is a treasury of art dedicated to prayer.


Copyright 2018 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 Barb’s Bookshelf: “Where You Lead” by Leslea Wahl

You might think, from the title, that Leslea Wahl’s new novel for teens is Gilmore Girls fan fiction. You’d be wrong.

The “You” in Where You Lead isn’t a character in the novel at all. It’s God — and that’s a really cool angle in a YA book.

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In this fun-to-read romantic suspense novels for teens, Eve is prompted by an odd vision to goad her parents into a cross-country move. She can’t tell them the real reason: she knows she needs to help or protect the young man playing Frisbee in front of a red castle. But when Eve engineers a chance to meet him, Nick (understandably) thinks she’s a crazy stalker.

Soon the professor’s daughter and senator’s son find themselves embroiled in a mystery involving lost Civil War treasure — one that may have international implications in the present. It’s refreshing to read about teens who openly pray and who try to find out what God wants them to do, especially as this felt like a natural part of the story, not something forced. The dialogue and characters are real, and the cranky elderly neighbor provided comic relief. I was immediately drawn into this page-turner.

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The sense of place in this novel really struck me. Leslea Wahl lived in Washington, DC, as a young adult, and between her own experience in our nation’s capital, plus plenty of careful research, she makes the setting come alive. It’s been decades since I’ve visited DC, but now I have a mental list of places I’d love to see if we ever return there.

Where You Lead is recommended for readers in middle school and up.

Do you want to win a free book? Leslea is hosting a Treasure Hunt through October 15, with 10 chances to win!

I still hear that Carole King song in my head when I see the title, but I think the lyrics definitely apply to this story.


Copyright 2018 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.

Open Book: September 2018 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

relicRelic of His Heart by Jane Lebak. When a midwife is suddenly confronted by an angel who wants her to restore a relic stolen 70 years ago to a church in Italy, she thinks he’s crazy. Then she finds out the depth of her family’s connection to that church, and the dire state of the town — and her journalist husband gets on board to help with this mission. Along the way, her own livelihood is threatened as lawmakers try to enact legislation that will effectively outlaw midwifery in her state. One of the things Jane Lebak does very well is human-angel banter, and this novel is no exception. This is an excellent story, with plenty of clever humor, a great twist at the end, and almost no gory birth-center details to deter the squeamish (like me). Interwoven in the dialogue is a wonderful explanation of what Catholics believe about relics. Recommended!

catching christmasCatching Christmas by Terri Blackstock. I’m pretty sure the first chapter’s premise came from a meme: cab driver pulls up to house that looks like no one’s home. Reluctantly going to the door, he finds an elderly woman asleep in wheelchair and takes her to medical appointment. That’s where the meme ends and the novel begins. Over the next several days, former restauranteur Finn needs to pay his rent, but Callie, the elderly woman, is so insistent that he not only driver to her to the places she needs to go (including Christmas shopping), but bring her in to each and every one. That means he can’t leave the meter running. That means he’s out the cash – and plenty of it. He alternates between anger at Callie’s granddaughter, Sydney, who apparently is too tied up in her work to care for her grandmother, and remorse for the way he treated his own mother when she was dying. Great story. (Netgalley review)

end of the worldThe End of the World by Amy Matayo. When Cameron shows up on the doorstep of his new foster home, he’s greeted by a slightly-older teenage girl who tries to help him survive the awful circumstances he’s just entered. Shaya is bossy, but that’s all a cover she uses to keep it together in a horrific situation. Cameron joins Shaya in caring for the younger 3 children in the home and finding a place where the two of them can pretend that none of this is happening. This is not your typical foster-home horror story, though there’s plenty of that in this novel. Instead, it’s a story of resilience, of missed opportunities, of brokenness so deep that there seems little chance for wholeness. Warning: this story will shatter your heart. But it’s well worth it.

curve in the roadA Curve in the Road by Julianne MacLean. Lots of suspense in this quick-to-read novel. Abbie’s perfect life is shattered when she’s seriously injured in a car wreck by a drunk driver — and family secrets she never knew come to light. Her whole life changes in a matter of seconds. I usually don’t feel I can relate to characters who have perfect lives, but maybe because Abbie’s life stops being perfect in the very first chapter, it was different this time. I had trouble putting this book down.

wideness of the seaThe Wideness of the Sea by Katie Curtis. Twentysomething artist Anna Goodrich lives and works in New York, putting distance between herself and her father, since their relationship has become complicated after her mother’s death. She doesn’t want to live her life bound by his expectations that she’ll follow in her mother’s footsteps as a famous artist. Her return to her Maine hometown for her uncle’s funeral brings up old hurts, including an old romance; at the same time, she learns she’s been invited to show her work at a prestigious art show that would blow her cover. An enjoyable read.

GIRLS AT 17The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib. A truly intense novel written from the point of view of a young married woman with anorexia. Anna is a dancer in Paris, but an injury ends her career and she becomes obsessed with staying thin. Add in the depression resulting from her relocation to the USA for her husband’s job and some childhood tragedies, and Anna winds up in a residential treatment facility for women with eating disorders. The author makes the thought process of the patient with anorexia painfully real. (Netgalley review)

beach windsBeach Winds (Emerald Isle NC #2) by Grace Greene. This story feels like it starts in the middle; Frannie is tasked with taking care of her uncle’s house while he recovers from a stroke. She hires a handyman to paint and repair things, but what’s really in need of repair is her own self-esteem once she finds out she’s being gaslighted and lied to about her childhood.

castles in the cloudsCastles in the Clouds (Flowers of Eden #2) by Myra Johnson. This novel follows an infatuated Lark as she follows her handsome professor to Africa to teach in a mission school; let down professionally and romantically, she must find a way to make a difference in a small Southern town during the Depression.

YA/Children’s

harrietHarriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I read this countless times as a kid, and just reread it after some authors were discussing it online. If Harriet the Spy were walking around today, she’d probably use Instagram or Snapchat. But this book would make a great lead-in to a discussion of cyberbullying, boundaries, and where we keep private thoughts private. This favorite from my childhood stands the test of time.

Nonfiction

Book CoverIt’s OK to Start with You by Julia Hogan. This not the kind of self-help book that works from the assumption that you’re doing this on your own. Hogan writes from a Catholic point of view, and she includes mental, emotional, social, and spiritual self-care in her whole-person look at this topic. (Review copy received from publisher.) Read my full review.

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

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

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

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

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Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: 5 Advent Devotionals

Before you say, “It’s too early to start thinking about Advent!” I’d invitee you to take a look around any craft store, gift shop, and warehouse club and notice all the Christmas merchandise that’s been on the shelves for at least a month. Advent begins December 2, and the best way to enjoy a peaceful liturgical season is to do a little prep work ahead of time.

The authors and editors from Ave Maria Press have been putting together Advent resources for months now. I had the chance to peek into five of these, each with a different focus.

sacred reading adventSacred Reading for Advent and Christmas by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network. This book for Advent and Christmas is always a favorite. It’s a 96-page paperback that offers the daily Gospel reading and a walk through a lectio divina exercise for the day, from the First Sunday of Advent through Epiphany (celebrated this year on January 6). After you read the Gospel, you are prompted to notice what you think and feel as you read, pray as you are led for yourself and others, listen to Jesus, and ask God to show you how to live today. In the instructions for using the book, the authors note,

One of the ways we can better understand and respond to the Lord during this holy season of Advent is by rediscovering, along with Christians all over the world, a powerful, ancient form of prayer known as sacred reading (lectio divina). What better way to deepen one’s friendship with Jesus Christ, the Word of God, than by prayerfully encountering him in the daily gospel?

sacred reading 2019Sacred Reading: The 2019 Guide to Daily Prayer by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network is set up in the same way: it’s the full-year version of Sacred Reading for Advent and Christmas. This easy-to-use prayer guide is appropriate for teens and adults and provides a wonderful way to enter into the spirit of each day’s gospel readings. The book also includes the Pope’s monthly prayer intentions, so you can unite your prayers with those of the universal Church for those special intentions each month. I have used the books in this series for several years and was honored to endorse this year’s edition; the full-year version isn’t too big to be portable (and as with the Advent book, an ebook version is also available).

gaze upon JesusGaze Upon Jesus: Experiencing Christ’s Childhood through the Eyes of Women, edited by Kelly Wahlquist, is a six-week scripture study that focuses on Jesus’ infancy and early years. This is a unique devotional that blends Bible-inspired fiction, sacred art, personal narratives, and scripture reflections. Gaze Upon Jesus can be used by individuals as well as prayer groups or book clubs. Contributors to this book include authors from WINE (Women in the New Evangelization): Alyssa Bormes, Sarah Christmyer, Mary Healy, Maria Morera Johnson, Stephanie Landsem, Elizabeth Lev, Joan Lewis, Deborah Savage, Kelly Wahlquist, Katie Warner, and Carol Younger.

At the beginning of the book you’ll find several pages of beautiful, full-color art reproductions (of varying styles) that accompany certain readings in the book. In the Introduction, editor Kelly Wahlquist observes,

Jesus always looks at you with love. He has fixed his gaze on you. The question is, have you fixed your gaze on him?

Gazing upon Jesus and receiving his gaze changes our lives. It allows us to feel his burning love for us. It heals our hearts and enkindles in us a burning desire for a relationship with God. (3)

living gospel daily reflections adventThe Living Gospel: Daily Devotions for Advent 2018 by Greg Kandra is a series of reflections by a journalist and deacon who writes in a down-to-earth style. Each day’s entry is a page or two in length; scripture references for the day’s readings are included (bring your own Bible). The reflections provide plenty of food for thought (or journaling), and there are action items/resolutions and a prayer to close out each day’s entry.

We get some idea of the daring that life involves as we begin the season of Advent. Whether we realize it or not, we’re embarking on an adventure of our own.

word made fleshWord Made Flesh: A Companion to the Sunday Readings (Cycle C) by Christopher West looks at the Cycle C Sunday readings through the lens of Theology of the Body. (This is not specifically an Advent book, but as this Advent begins the Cycle C readings, that’s the right time to begin reading Word Made Flesh.) The meditation for each Sunday is only about two pages long, which is perfect when you’re pressed for time. West notes in the introduction that it can guide your prayer after Communion, or you can read the day’s readings and this commentary in advance of Sunday Mass to “help you enter into the treasures of that day’s liturgy.”

5 for Advent


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 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Geeking Out Over Timelines

Geeking Out Over Timelines

When you’re interested in the study of history, there’s nothing like a timeline to help you get everything in order. Kids, parents, and teachers will all benefit from two new books that give the visual learner (like me) plenty to geek out over: The Great Adventure Catholic Bible and The Church Rocks!

Begin at the Beginning

The Great Adventure Catholic Bible from Ascension Press combines a beautiful Bible with color-coded timelines, a 90-day Bible reading plan (which covers the highlights of salvation history), and guidance on interpreting the Bible, applying Scripture to our lives, and praying with Scripture. The Bible is divided into sections, each of which has a fascinating introduction featuring maps, charts, and historical background:

  • Early World
  • Patriarchs
  • Egypt & Exodus
  • Desert Wanderings
  • Conquest & Judges
  • Royal Kingdom
  • Divided Kingdom
  • Exile
  • Return
  • Maccabean Revolt
  • Messianic Fulfillment
  • The Church

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Each of these sections has its own color, and every page of the Bible has a band of that color to help keep you on track as you read. Key events are marked with a box with extra information at the top of the page and a symbol within the text that corresponds to the box. There are ample footnotes and a mini-concordance at the bottom of each page. Jesus’ words are in red type. Every feature of this Bible is designed to help the reader place events in history, understand their significance, and learn why the message still matters today.

This Bible is colorful without being juvenile and uses the Revised Standard Version – Second Catholic Edition translation. The cover is blue vinyl with gold lettering and an embossed compass logo, and there are even two page-marker ribbons.

The Great Adventure Catholic Bible would make an excellent Confirmation gift. I’m really impressed with all the useful features and historical information.

History and Heritage

Beginning with Pentecost, the “birthday of the Church,” and ending with the New Evangelization, Sister Mary Lea Hill, FSP, has put together a history of the Catholic Church that will appeal to kids, teens, and the adults in their lives.

The Church Rocks! (I see what the author did there) is a century-by-century look at Church history that covers everything from stained glass to saints. It’s clever without being irreverent and definitely takes the “boring” out of historical study, providing a clear sense of time and place to Church events.

Each chapter begins with a timeline that lists major events in that century. In addition to the chapter’s narrative, readers will find an “I Witness” paragraph, written from the point of view of someone from that time period; this will grab the attention of younger readers (grades 3 to 5). Older students (grades 5 and up) will appreciate “More than the Facts,” “Latest and Greatest,” and “On the Record,” all of which offer more information on special topics, events, or important people. For further research, “Mystery of History” suggests topics for study. There’s also a writing prompt, vocabulary builder, and prayer in each chapter. “The Bigger Picture” closes out each chapter by placing that century in historical context and setting up what’s to come in the next century.

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Packed with black-and-white reproductions of famous art from the time, pictures of saints, and a useful index, this book would make a useful classroom tool and will intrigue history buffs of all ages.

Take a peek at the inside of this fascinating book:


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Amazon links are included in this post. I received review copies of both these books, but no other compensation, from the publishers. Opinions expressed here are mine.

“It’s OK to Start with You” and Physical Self-Care

Self Care

It’s not selfish to take good care of yourself.

Why is that so difficult for us to understand? I’m no exception — especially when it comes to physical self-care. (Which is why I thought it was hilarious when author Julia Hogan invited me to help introduce her new book, It’s OK to Start with You, by concentrating on physical self-care.)

When it comes to taking care of myself physically, I’m the poster child for excuses. I’ll get all that out of the way right now. Hogan enumerates four ways we take care of ourselves physically:

  • Sleep. I’m a poor sleeper, and often I’m woken up in the night by TheKid’s glucose monitor — he’s not a poor sleeper, so he sleeps through those alarms. There I am at 4 AM, rummaging in the fridge for apple juice. On the plus side, I know I can’t function well with little sleep, so I do make the effort to get to bed well before 10 PM, since I wake up at 5 AM. I don’t see much I can change here.
  • Nutrition. Yes, I have a food blog that features nutrition labels for every recipe so people with diabetes or other dietary issues can get carb counts. I also have the remains of a 4-pound bag of M&Ms in my desk drawer. That’s a problem.
  • Exercise. I thought I’d make a commitment to exercising for the week leading up to this article. Later that day, as I was walking (to get ice cream … I was on vacation!) my left knee buckled under me, so I slowly made my way back to where we were staying, without any ice cream, and I’m not going to be taking any power walks around the neighborhood anytime soon. Even with the knee brace, it’s hurting.
  • Body image. Now, this I can work on, sore knee and all. No excuses.

To be honest (and if nothing else, this book is all about honesty), I think the area of body image is the one where I need the most help. Other issues (except for sleep) stem from that.

Why don’t I take better care of myself?

For one, I’m lazy. Self-care takes time. But Hogan notes, “the way we treat ourselves betrays what we really think of ourselves” (20).

OUCH.

She’s right.

I like that Hogan, right up front, emphasizes that self-care is not an excuse to behave selfishly (11). Self-indulgence is not self-care, but we’ve all fallen into the trap of thinking we deserve that pumpkin-spice latte or new pair of shoes to reward ourselves for merely getting through the day or the week.

I have a long way to go.

“Instead of aiming for ‘perfection,’ aim for appreciating the body you have been given and the amazing things it can do” (76).

While my body can’t do all the amazing things right now because of that knee injury, and it may never look picture-perfect since I’m 53 and, um, allergic to exercise, it’s nurtured three children and can still, even with a knee injury, do the laundry and go to the supermarket to get fresh vegetables for dinner. (I might milk it a bit when it comes to housecleaning, though.)

This is a book you’re meant to write in. I didn’t only write in mine — I underlined those points that I’m going to need to reread until they sink in. Or until I let them sink in. There are places in the book to work through self-care action plans. I decided to focus on two physical areas, and I chose steps that I thought were realistic and measurable.

My 3-step plan to improve body image:

  • Work on my wardrobe. If it doesn’t fit and flatter, it’s out. I made an appointment for a clothing-donation pickup and have already filled three bags. I’ll try on skirts and pants when moving is a little easier. Also, I want to reserve sweatpants for exercising and relaxing at home. If I’m going to leave the house, I should look better than that.
  • Get a haircut. I looked back in my planner. My last haircut was June 6.
  • Moisturize. I don’t do makeup. And I usually skip basic skin care too.

[Put] in the necessary time and effort to groom and dress in a way that communicates your worth (77-78).

My 3-step plan for better nutrition:

  • Eat more protein – add a protein source to every meal.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables – add a fruit/vegetable/both to every meal.
  • Stop eating junk food in the office. I’ll eat less junk if I have to go downstairs to get it. I’ll leave a jar of mixed nuts in the office in case I need a snack. But I’m removing the M&Ms from my desk.

Make a conscious decision rather than letting your emotions decide when (and what) you eat (71).

Check out the YouTube playlist to get a full week of self-care challenges:

It’s OK to Start with You isn’t the kind of book you devour in one sitting, and it’s not the kind of self-help book that works from the assumption that you’re doing this on your own. Hogan writes from a Catholic point of view, and she includes mental, emotional, social, and spiritual self-care in her whole-person look at this topic.

Learn more by following author Julia Hogan on Facebook and Instagram. And don’t miss the contest on Instagram: you can win a copy of this book! To enter, visit the Instagram blog tour post and comment with the new self-care practice you will try. Contest ends Friday, September 14th, 2018 and the winner will be chosen at random on Monday, September 17th, 2018.


Copyright 2018 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 2018

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

At the end of July I was preparing for my trip to the Catholic Writers Guild Conference (a combination of business, pleasure, and spiritual retreat), so this will cover the best of what I’ve read this summer. If I gave it 3 stars or better on Goodreads, it made this list.

Fiction

year of extraordinary momentsA Year of Extraordinary Moments by Bette Lee Crosby. The second book in Bette Lee Crosby’s “Magnolia Grove” series brings readers back to the small-town neighbors who feel friendly and familiar. Tracy is finally beginning to put her past behind her and has gotten help for her profoundly deaf young child. Complications arise when Dominic, her ex, shows up, summoned by his dying grandmother, who wants to do the right thing for her descendants. But Dominic’s grandmother, despite her serious and painful illness, has a heart of gold and a spine of steel. Tracy’s sister Meghan, the main character in the first book in the series, must come to terms with her own need to follow what she believes were her late father’s wishes. This story of family, love, healing, and strength is one you won’t want to put down — and you won’t want the book to end. Highly recommended. (Netgalley review, but I preordered this book months ago and I know I’ll reread it when it’s released October 16.)

13th chanceThe Thirteenth Chance by Amy Matayo. What a fun read! Olivia, a pretty teacher with a bad case of OCD, gets mixed up in a MLB pitcher’s scheme to get his career back on track. Turns out she’s a bit of a good-luck charm, and while the two of them irritate each other, sparks begin to fly. This book is funny, and the characters have enough quirks to keep it interesting (there’s nothing worse than plain vanilla characters). A clean romance with plenty of banter. Great read for the summer!

unveilingUnveiling, a luxurious read by Suzanne Wolfe from Paraclete Press, is a story that was easy to dive into — and tough to stop reading. My only complaint? It wasn’t long enough! Assigned to Rome to restore a mysterious medieval painting, Rachel leaves her life in New York behind, along with a bitter divorce and a childhood trauma that’s left a mystery to the reader until she is no longer able to bury the secret she’d rather keep hidden. Meanwhile, Rachel and her team work against the looming threat that the art will be removed from the church after restoration is complete. My favorite part involved the question of the identity of the artist behind the beautiful painting Rachel was restoring, and this book made me want to discover more about religious art. (Review copy received from publisher.)

still fallingStill Falling (Home in You 0.5) by Crystal Walton. In this prequel to the “Home in You” series, musician Bree finds she can’t run away from the violence from her old neighborhood as quickly as she ran away from her old block — and her old flame, who’s now a police officer hoping to make detective. Bree and Josh are thrown together again when her father comes under fire from the gang Bree hopes to help her brother escape. I enjoyed this whole series and wish I’d read the books in order!

fearedFeared (Rosato & DiNunzio #6) by Lisa Scottoline. Snark, suspense, and plenty of local color flavor Lisa Scottoline’s crime novels. While this is not my preferred genre, I’m a fan of this author’s newspaper columns and I enjoy her books because she’s heavy on the Philly connection. In this sixth book in the series (you don’t have to have read them all before reading this), a former neighbor’s vendetta threatens to take out the no-longer-all-female law firm, an associate is mysteriously murdered, and Rosato & DiNunzio just aren’t sure who can be trusted. Premature labor complicates matters further. Not to be missed: the Rosary Society invading the mobster’s mom’s home. (Netgalley review)

falling for youFalling for You (Bradford Sisters Romance #2) by Becky Wade. Will they or won’t they? Willow Bradford and her former boyfriend Corbin are thrown together by Corbin’s young niece, who wants them to help her find a long-lost aunt. Along the way, opportunities for romance abound, along with some danger as supermodel Willow is stalked by some over-the-top fans and the two of them discover the extent of an apparently squeaky-clean politician’s secret corruption. Another obstacle: Corbin’s father, Joe, is dying — and he doesn’t want Willow involved with his son. I wasn’t wowed by this novel; all the main characters and their boyfriends seem to be beautiful and have perfectly-perfect careers. But I enjoyed the character of Corbin’s niece — she’d be great in a YA spinoff!

good samGood Sam by Dete Meserve. A refreshing change in the mystery genre: there’s no dead body opening this story. Instead, the mystery revolves around who’s been leaving bags with $100K at people’s doors. LA TV-news reporter Kate, seeking to advance her career with this Big Story, finds a connection to her former fiance and risks losing the new guy in her life. Just because there’s no corpse doesn’t mean everyone’s motives are above board.

YA/Children’s

where you leadWhere You Lead by Leslea Wahl. In this fun-to-read romantic suspense novel for teens, Eve is prompted by an odd vision to goad her parents into a cross-country move. She can’t tell them the real reason: she knows she needs to help or protect the young man playing frisbee in front of a red castle. But when Eve engineers a chance to meet him, he (understandably) thinks she’s a crazy stalker. Soon the professor’s daughter and senator’s son find themselves embroiled in a mystery involving lost Civil War treasure — one that may have international implications in the present. It’s refreshing to read about teens who openly pray and who try to find out what God wants them to do, especially as this felt like a natural part of the story, not something forced. The dialogue and characters are real, and the cranky elderly neighbor provided comic relief. I was immediately drawn into this page-turner. (Review copy provided by author.)

boundBound by Vijaya Bodach. High-school senior Rebecca can’t wait to go away to college — far away, where she can leave behind her father, who’s retreated into his work after her mom’s death last year, and her developmentally-disabled older sister. Rebecca, who was burned over 50% of her body as a preteen, is still dealing with surgeries and treatments for the burn scars and can’t remember the accident that caused the fire. But Rebecca’s dad isn’t dealing with Joy’s needs, leaving Rebecca to make decisions far beyond her years. When Joy becomes pregnant, the family is forced to rework this unhealthy dynamic. This engaging story is a sensitive treatment of prolife themes including abortion, end-of-life issues, and eugenics. Appropriate for teenagers, Bound would make an excellent classroom read.

33430141_10216812107521559_4057467162288193536_nSecrets: Visible and Invisible from CatholicTeenBooks.com. This anthology of Catholic fiction for teens will introduce readers to seven diverse authors. Many of these stories, in a variety of genres but linked by a common theme, offer a peek at characters from full-length novels. Readers already acquainted with these authors will enjoy new perspectives on favorite characters. Kudos to CatholicTeenBooks.com and these seven authors for dreaming up this excellent collection. From dystopia to historical fiction to sweet romance to mystery, there’s something for every reader to like in this collection — and it might even encourage a reader who’s locked in to a certain genre to branch out a bit.

born scaredBorn Scared by Kevin Brooks. A harrowing novel written from the point of view of a young boy/teen (?) who is afraid of EVERYTHING. His fear paralyzes him to an amazing degree. He can’t go anywhere. He’s almost all out of the only medication that even takes the edge off his terror, it’s Christmas Eve, and there’s a blizzard. His mom goes out to meet the friend who offered to pick up the prescription, but doesn’t return, so the terrified boy, in his desperation, ventures out in the storm to find her. The book is poetically written and absolutely gives words to the terror he feels. There were a few plot elements that weren’t very clear, but this is a good novel for the middle- and high-school reader and will generate good discussion about coping with fear and anxiety. (Netgalley review)

merci suarezMerci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina. Entering middle school is a challenge for any kid. Merci has extra obstacles to face: she’s a scholarship kid of a different race than most of her private-school classmates, she’s not super rich, and she’s noticing that something about her grandfather is not quite right anymore. Plus, her friends are starting to pair off into couples, and she’s not ready for that. Merci must face down classmates who’ll do anything to win, academically and socially. A good look at what it’s like to be a 6th-grader under a variety of pressures. (Netgalley review)

benefits of being an octopusThe Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden. Zoey, a middle-schooler, is charged with work beyond her years: caring for her three very young siblings while her mother works, trying to keep the kids fed (by any means necessary), and staying out of the way of her mom’s emotionally-abusive boyfriend. A caring teacher shows Zoey enough compassion mixed with demanding toughness to help Zoey realize that she has to take some action to help two vulnerable friends, her siblings, her mother, and herself. I would give this book 10 stars of out 5 if that were an option, and it is going to take me a long time to process everything I’ve read here. This is a YA book that any adult who deals with kids should read. It will be eye-opening for teachers and other school leaders. (Netgalley review)

louisianas way homeLouisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo. I devoured this middle-grade novel with a spunky main character whose voice reminded me very much of Junie B. Jones. Louisiana Elefante’s granny takes her on a journey in the middle of the night, abandoning their home and Louisiana’s friends and pets. Stranded in a Georgia town by Granny’s dental emergency, Louisiana discovers that she’ll need to find a way for herself in the world. This is a sweet story of unexpected kindnesses that would make a terrific movie. (Netgalley review)

everlasting noraEverlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz. Nora is a little girl who lives in a shantytown inside a Manila (Philippines) cemetery — she and her mother actually live inside the mausoleum where her father is buried. The book goes into extensive detail of what it’s like for the homeless who live in the cemeteries, which is a real thing in Manila. Nora and a friend try to find her mother, who disappeared one day, while Nora does her best to hold down the menial job she has to keep herself and her mother, a compulsive gambler, fed. This is an intense story with themes of addiction, organized crime, and violence. For middle-grade readers. (Netgalley review)

It looks like the big theme in YA/middle-grade this year is going to be kids living in home-insecure situations (either homeless or close to it.) I had 3 Netgalleys this summer on that subject alone.

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 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Fiction and Fun for Summer

Here are 5 summer reading picks for readers of all ages.

For the Kids: A Staircase for the Sisters by Pamela Love

staircase for the sisters

Inspired by the true story of an architectural marvel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, A Staircase for the Sisters tells about the miraculous construction of a staircase to the choir loft of a tiny church where there wasn’t room for any stairs. I remember visiting this church during a cross-country trip as a child, and I was struck by the fascinating story of a mysterious carpenter who was an answer to prayer. Insisting upon working alone, the carpenter constructed a spiral staircase without nails or a center support — and then he disappeared. At the end of the book, readers will find information on the Loretto Chapel, St. Joseph, and a novena to St. Joseph. This short book is an excellent read-aloud for children 5 and up, and older independent readers will enjoy it as well.

For the Kids: The Pope’s Cat by Jon M. Sweeney

popes cat

Jon M. Sweeney’s chapter book for independent readers, The Pope’s Cat, recounts the story of Margaret, a stray cat who is adopted by the Pope (who likes to take early-morning walks outside the Vatican). Through Margaret, readers will get a peek at the daily life of the Pope, including a meeting with the Queen of England! Will Margaret be able to sneak past the Swiss Guard to join her new friend, the Pope, at dinner with the Queen? Cute illustrations accompany this story — and I hear that a sequel is coming this fall!

For Teens and Adults: Black Bottle Man by Craig Russell

black bottle man

Can a novel be both chilling and enjoyable at once? Black Bottle Man, the tale of a young boy caught up in a Faustian bargain, manages that feat. Alternating in time from Rembrandt’s younger days through his ninetieth year, the novel slowly fills in the blanks of a deal with the devil that turned a whole family’s life upside-down and left Rembrandt alone in the world and unable to stay in one place longer than 12 days. Imagine being homeless and always on the move for 80 years! YA novel recommended for high-school age and up.

For Teens and Adults: Bound by Vijaya Bodach

bound

High-school senior Rebecca can’t wait to go away to college — far away, where she can leave behind her father, who’s retreated into his work after her mom’s death last year, and her developmentally-disabled older sister. Rebecca, who was burned over 50% of her body as a preteen, is still dealing with surgeries and treatments for the burn scars and can’t remember the accident that caused the fire. But Rebecca’s dad isn’t dealing with Joy’s needs, leaving Rebecca to make decisions far beyond her years. When Joy becomes pregnant, the family is forced to rework this unhealthy dynamic. This engaging story is a sensitive treatment of prolife themes including abortion, end-of-life issues, and eugenics. Appropriate for teenagers, Bound would make an excellent classroom read.

For Grownups: Unveiling by Suzanne M. Wolfe

unveiling

Unveiling, a luxurious read from Paraclete Press, is a story that was easy to dive into — and tough to stop reading. My only complaint? It wasn’t long enough! Assigned to Rome to restore a mysterious medieval painting, Rachel leaves her life in New York behind, along with a bitter divorce and a childhood trauma that’s left a mystery to the reader until she is no longer able to bury the secret she’d rather keep hidden. Meanwhile, Rachel and her team work against the looming threat that the art will be removed from the church after restoration is complete. My favorite part involved the question of the identity of the artist behind the beautiful painting Rachel was restoring, and this book made me want to discover more about religious art.
Barb's Book shelf blog title


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of these books (except BOUND, which I purchased), but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: A Short-Story Anthology for Teens from CatholicTeenBooks

A brand-new #1 new release on Amazon is a terrific introduction to the work of 7 Catholic authors! Secrets: Visible and Invisible, a short-story collection compiled by CatholicTeenBooks.com, reached #1 in the “Values and Virtues Fiction for Teens” category in its first 24 hours!

I’m very familiar with the work of many of the authors whose stories are featured here: Carolyn Astfalk, T.M. Gaouette, Theresa Linden, Cynthia T. Toney, and Leslea Wahl. Two other authors are new to me: Susie Peek and Corinna Turner — and I’ll definitely be taking a look at these authors’ full-length work after getting a taste of their writing.

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Here’s a bit about the 7 stories you’ll find in this anthology:

  • In a dystopian future, an innocent picnic turns deadly!
  • Elijah knows nothing of an elderly stranger’s secret past — until her disappearance changes everything.
  • A mysterious, ever-changing painting alarms a group of teens.
  • A cannonball took Dario’s legs … Will he lose his soul too?
  • The arrival of a mysterious girl challenges everything about Jason’s life.
  • An unlicensed driver. His dad’s truck. What could possibly go wrong?
  • An old tale of murder and forbidden love leads to a modern-day treasure hunt.

As a rule, I don’t endorse a book I haven’t read. I’m proud to endorse Secrets and I’ll state right now that I’ll definitely be reading it again. Here’s my endorsement:

This anthology of Catholic fiction for teens will introduce readers to seven diverse authors. Many of these stories, in a variety of genres but linked by a common theme, offer a peek at characters from full-length novels. Readers already acquainted with these authors will enjoy new perspectives on favorite characters. Kudos to CatholicTeenBooks.com and these seven authors for dreaming up this excellent collection.

From dystopia to historical fiction to sweet romance to mystery, there’s something for every reader to like in this collection — and it might even encourage a reader who’s locked in to a certain genre to branch out a bit.

This book is appropriate for readers in middle-school and up, and would be an excellent addition to a school or classroom library. As described by Mark Hart of Life Teen International, who provides the foreword, “Each story reveals something different about the human heart and our constant (though, often veiled) desire for truth and virtue.”

Want to win a copy for your teen?

Enter the blog tour giveaway!

Visit the other stops on the Blog Tour for more chances to win:

Blog Tour Schedule:

July 4              Steve McEvoy                        Book Reviews and More

July 5              Leslea Wahl                            Leslea Wahl

July 6              Barb Szyszkiewicz                 Franciscan Mom

July 7              Shower of Roses                     Shower of Roses

July 8              Carolyn Astfalk                      My Scribbler’s Heart

July 9              Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur  Spiritual Woman

July 9              Sarah Damm                           Sarah Damm

July 10            Corinna Turner                       Unseen Books

July 11            Christina Weigand                  Palace of Twelve Pillars

July 11            Virginia Lieto                         Virginia Lieto

July 12            Theresa Linden                       Things Visible & Invisible

July 13            T.M. Gaouette                        T.M. Gaouette

July 14            Karina Fabian                         Fabianspace

July 16            Therese Heckenkamp             Therese Heckenkemp

July 17            Ellen Gable Hrkach                Plot Line & Sinker

July 17            Barb Szyszkiewicz                 CatholicMom

July 18            Catholic Teen Books              Catholic Teen Books


Copyright 2018 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 2018 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

just in timeJust in Time by Marie Bostwick. Grace’s life revolves around her quilting hobby and caring for her husband, who’s been in a coma since a hiking accident on their honeymoon. Her friends from a grief support group stand by her and push her toward new adventures even as new crises in her work and personal life threaten the fragile balance of her life. Terrific characters.

not that I could tellNot That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser. A disturbing read about a group of young moms in a neighborhood and how they react to the sudden disappearance of one of their peers, who seems to have taken off, small children in tow, with no explanation. The resulting media circus seems to point to Kristin’s estranged husband, and others in the neighborhood must deal with their own crises. I’m not entirely sure the surprise ending works. (Netgalley review)

bound by brokennessBound by Brokenness (The Healing Season’s series #2) by This story is a continuation of a series; definitely these need to be read in order. Dr. Matthias Mason is injured while treating the people in the mountain region where he lives and works; his young assistant steps out of her comfort zone to take care of things while he cannot. Meanwhile, 12-year-old Samuel is left on his own to manage a household, the vegetable garden, and his schoolwork — and he finds himself embroiled in a bootlegging scandal while trying to protect a friend. Some anachronistic dialogue got in the way of the historical-fiction experience.

way life should beThe Way Life Should Be by Christina Baker Kline. Kind of farfetched, but good escape fiction: Angela’s friend convinces her to try online dating, but it doesn’t turn out quite as she expected and it has disastrous effects on her job. When she heads to Maine to either escape or start over (even she doesn’t know which) she finds a surprising way to start over. I almost didn’t purchase this because of the reviews I read on Amazon (people were upset that this wasn’t anything like Orphan Train, but I really enjoyed it).

every time you go awayEvery Time You Go Away by Beth Harbison. This novel reminded me a lot of the movie “Ghost.” Ben, who died prematurely, leaving a wife and teen son, comes back as a ghost to their beach house, a place his wife had avoided since he died there alone 3 years before. Willa has a lot of healing and grieving to do, and a lot of repairing of her relationship with her son. Predictable, but an enjoyable read. (Netgalley review)

sister circleThe Sister Circle (Sister Circle #1) by Vonette Bright & Nancy Moser. A sweet, if farfetched, story about a recent widow whose husband left her nothing but an enormous old home filled with antiques. She opens a boardinghouse, filling the rooms with 3 women with little in common except they all need a place to stay. The book’s Christian message is strong, veering toward the didactic at times. This is the first in a series, and it’s pretty clear that there’s going to be a discovery that two characters have an unexpected connection (I’m trying to avoid spoilers); honestly, that’s the only reason I purchased the second book in the series.

least expectedLeast Expected by Autumn MacArthur. This short novel takes place over the course of a week or two at Christmastime; a middle-aged store owner with an overbearing mother falls for the quirky, artistic freelance window decorator. It wraps up a little too neatly, of course, but it was a fun read that definitely had me hoping these two characters would get together.

Nonfiction

catholic baby namesCatholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys by Katherine Morna Towne. I was honored to be asked to endorse this book! Choosing a Marian name for your baby, or helping your teen select a Confirmation name, just got easier. Kate Towne takes the guesswork out of the naming process, offering hundreds of names and nicknames that refer to Mary or are used in her honor. Complete with feast-day information, a bit of history, and plenty of variations and cross-referencing, this guide to names that honor the Blessed Mother is fascinating and full of surprises. Read my full review.

rethink happinessRethink Happiness by Paul George isn’t simply about self-help; its focus is solidly on spiritual growth. Don’t let the subtitle, “Dare to embrace God and experience true joy,” leave you thinking that this book doesn’t deal with the tough stuff or offer a true challenge. Paul George discusses depression, success, decision-making, beauty (and deceptive beauty), despair, simple living, fear, and other topics with an honest touch and just the right number of anecdotes to make his points relatable. Each chapter ends with reflection questions for prayer or journaling.

followKatie Prejean McGrady’s Follow: Your Lifelong Adventure with Jesus invites young Catholics to get to know Jesus in practical ways. But it’s not for young Catholics only! There are only four chapters, but they’re comparatively long ones, divided into sections of a few pages each. These four chapters cover four important ways to build a relationship with Jesus: prayer, Scripture, sacraments, and service. There’s a lot of information in this book: the chapter on prayer, for example, includes the Litany of Humility, a list of all the mysteries of the Rosary, and extensive coverage of various ways to pray.

psalm basicsPsalm Basics for Catholics: Seeing Salvation History in a New Way by John Bergsma is a Bible study, but Bergsma’s lighter approach makes this book perfect for summer. This book is informative and engaging without being too formal or serious. Charts and diagrams illustrate the discussion of salvation history and the distinctions among the psalms themselves. There’s much more than basic information here! The book has eleven chapters, so reading one chapter per week will take you right through the summer. I found it hard to stop reading at the end of each chapter — I was quickly wrapped up in Bergsma’s explanations about the history behind the psalms.

go bravelyEmily Wilson Hussem’s Go Bravely: Becoming the woman you were meant to be was definitely written for an audience more my daughter’s age (22) than mine (more than old enough to have a daughter who’s 22). That didn’t stop me from grabbing a pen and underlining large chunks of it. Wilson’s advice is for women of any age — the anecdotes will appeal most to older teens, college-age, and young-adult women, but the advice is definitely for us all. It would be great for a mother-daughter book club! This book is divided into twenty short chapters, each with a different piece of advice: for example, Find Your Gaggle, Honor Those Who Love You Most, Forgive and Forget, and Radiate with Light.


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

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

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

open book new logo

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz