#OpenBook: March 2019 Reads

open book logo

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

libbys cuppa joeLibby’s Cuppa Joe by Rebecca Waters. Coffee shops and books and lakeside resort towns: what’s not to love about the setting for Rebecca Waters’ newest Christian novel? The author painted such a clear picture of Fish Creek that I felt I could have drawn a map of the town — and it’s a town where I’d be proud to live. I dove into this book and didn’t want to come back out; my only complaint is that 188 pages wasn’t enough! I’d have loved a little more story, and if the author sets any more books in this lovely community, I’ll be a happy reader.

finding dorothyFinding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts. Fictionalized story of Maud Gage Baum, wife of the author of the “Wizard of Oz” books. This novel, based on true events, feels like it belongs on the biography shelf. The author cleverly and seamlessly emphasizes elements in Maud’s life that pop up in the Oz novels. The story of her presence on the movie set brought to mind P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks but everything else rings true in this fascinating book. A must if you liked the Oz books or the movie.

hurt roadHurt Road by Bruce A. Stewart. Teenage Hank winds up in rural Louisiana after his parents are killed in an accident, and it’s the last place he wants to be – until he meets a girl and then makes a friend. His ticket out of the South is a relative in Colorado and then military service; returning after the Vietnam War, he discovers he still has feelings for that girl. But there’s a crazy ex-boyfriend who doesn’t want anyone getting between him and his dream to reunite with Becky. I enjoyed this story very much; I only wish there had been a little more to it. The narrative seemed a bit thin more often than not, especially young Hank’s quick turnaround in attitude toward helping his grandparents.

beantown girlsThe Beantown Girls by Jane Healey. Terrific WWII novel about Red Cross volunteers who travel to Europe to help the war effort. Main character Fiona’s motivation is finding her fiance, who’s been MIA for a couple of years. Despite some Lucy-and-Ethel-quality disasters in front of their superiors, the 3 are sent to France, where the realities of war are brought home to them in tragic ways. I will add that there seemed to be a disconnect in attitude: a guy who has a girlfriend back home but pursues Fiona’s friend is termed a “wolf” but Fiona finds herself in a romance. Double standard much?

song of bernadetteThe Song of Bernadette by Franz Werfel. This novelization of the apparitions at Lourdes was a tough read: paragraphs went on for a page at a time and the style is very, very flowery. I appreciated that the novel included the perspectives of many involved, without trying to get into Bernadette’s head. The book provides a good perspective of what life was like in rural France at that time in history.

 

YA/Children’s

margarets first holy weekMargaret’s First Holy Week by Jon M. Sweeney. The third book in Jon M. Sweeney’s “The Pope’s Cat” series of chapter books about a little cat who comes to live in the Vatican takes up the serious topic of the holiest time in the Church year in a sweet, reverent way children can understand. An ideal introduction to Holy Week for children ages 4 through 8, either as a read-aloud or for independent readers in second or third grade. Works well as a standalone, so don’t skip it if you haven’t read the others in the series.

Nonfiction

my queen my motherMy Queen, My Mother: A Living Novena by Marge Fenelon. This book is more than simply a novena of prayers: it’s a pilgrimage memoir, travel guidebook, and prayer book all in one. Fenelon leads the reader on a journey around the USA, visiting 9 holy shrines to the Blessed Mother and sharing what makes each a unique and worthwhile place to visit and pray. Along the way, readers are guided through a novena of consecration to the Blessed Mother. The author ends by emphasizing the importance of regularly visiting holy shrines, as these are in danger of disappearing due to lack of visitors and funding. The book can be read over 9 days, weeks, or months – but I had a tough time stopping at the end of any single day’s entry. Highly recommended. (Netgalley review)

know thyself-aKnow Thyself: The Imperfectionist’s Guide to Sorting Your Stuff by Lisa Lawmaster Hess. Finally, an organizing book for the rest of us: the ones who look organized on the outside … until you open doors or drawers, and the ones whose stuff is all over the place. Lisa Lawmaster Hess has created a do-able guide to embracing your unique combination of personal and organizing styles and working with them instead of against them. Parents: don’t miss the chapter on helping kids get organized for school. (ARC received from publisher; coming in late June from Our Sunday Visitor – but available for preorder now!)

other wes mooreThe Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore. A dual biography/autobiography with an interesting premise: two boys with the same name grow up in the same city, only blocks away from each other, with many other similarities in early-life circumstances. One grows up to become a Rhodes scholar and eventually an elite Army officer; the other is sentenced to life in prison for his part in a drug-related murder. Wes Moore discusses what went right for him and what went wrong for his same-named counterpart.

random acts of kindnessRandom Acts of Kindness: Inspiring True Stories by Dete Meserve. This companion to Meserve’s novel Good Sam is comprised of example after example of true stories of people caught in the act of kindness. When you need a break from the news of the day, enjoy a story or two from this book and your spirits will be lifted as you’re reminded that there are plenty of good people left in the world – we just don’t get to hear about them enough. (Netgalley review)

mostly sunnyMostly Sunny: How I Learned to Keep Smiling Through the Rainiest Days by Janice Dean. Memoir of a radio DJ-turned-TV meteorologist who faced sexual harassment throughout her career, and who is challenged by living with multiple sclerosis. Dean is very upfront about her various high-profile bosses who abused their power by harassing female employees. Of interest only if you enjoy celebrity bios.

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

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

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

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


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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On Barb’s Bookshelf: Two for the “Go Irish” Crowd

go irish (1)
Image background: By Matthew RiceOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

It’s an amazing thing to get a sneak peek at two books with a connection to a place that’s precious in my memory: the University of Notre Dame.

When I arrived there in August of 1987, Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., the legendary longtime president of the university, had recently retired. He was still very much a presence at Notre Dame, occupying an office on the 13th floor of the library named for him — and that was a popular floor for students to hang out in the hopes of seeing Fr. Ted or any of his famous acquaintances.

His fellow priest and university administrator Fr. Wilson D. Miscamble, C.S.C., recently published a definitive biography of Hesburgh that acknowledges the former university president’s complicated history. American Priest: The Ambitious Life and Conflicted Legacy of Notre Dame’s Father Ted Hesburgh (Image Books) has an index that reads like a Who’s Who of Church and world leaders.

american priest 1

Miscamble chronicles Hesburgh’s 35 years at the helm of Notre Dame without whitewashing errors in judgment and without prematurely canonizing his subject. Hesburgh presided over a nationally-renowned, if not world-renowned, university through times of social and political change, from 1952 through 1987. His influence, for good and for ill, has had far-reaching effects on Catholic higher education beyond the South Bend city limits. Miscamble’s book is more than a biography of one priest; it’s the story of a significant chapter in the life of a university.

Equally larger than life despite his small stature, celebrated football coach Lou Holtz led the team to an 8-4 season. That was the year I learned to like football. I’d never even watched a football game, but one of my roommates was a band assistant and my other roommates made sure I got to one game and provided a play-by-play. The students’ love for the coach was obvious from the repeated cry, “Lou! Lou! Lou!” — and this was the year before the Irish won the national championship.

Holtz, now retired from coaching sports, continues to coach through his motivational speaking, including graduation speeches. Three Rules for Living a Good Life: A Game Plan for after Graduation (Ave Maria Press) is an expanded edition of one such speech. The coach’s game plan is designed to help the reader achieve professional success, have a good personal life, feel needed, feel secure about the future, and go to heaven.

At only 76 small-format pages, this gift book is an easy read packed with homespun advice, truths Holtz admits he learned the hard way, and more than a few dad jokes.

lou holtz

I’m not kidding about the dad jokes: I laughed at something on nearly every page. I’m also not kidding when I say that while this book is clearly aimed at new graduates, anyone (of any age) can benefit from reading it.


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz
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.

#OpenBook: February 2019 Reads

open book logo
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

emily goneEmily, Gone by Bette Lee Crosby. A crime of opportunity: a grieving, unhinged young woman breaks into a home looking for food — and comes out with a 6-month-old baby she’s convinced is her own stillborn child. While her boyfriend agonizes over how to get the baby girl back to her parents, Vicki settles right in as a mom. Meanwhile Rachel finds it impossible to get over the loss of her baby. There are plenty of wonderful small-town characters, and this story of grief, resilience, and healing is compelling and well written. This book should come with a warning label: Don’t start reading this unless you can commit to the whole novel immediately! (Netgalley; expected April 30, 2019)

eleanor oliphantEleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. This book’s cover blurbs call it “incredibly funny” and “hilarious” — I would never apply those adjectives to this book. Eleanor has lived through a harrowing childhood, which the reader learns about bit by bit as Eleanor navigates a new-to-her experience: friendship and an ill-targeted crush. Her lack of social skills and her survival strategy (a rigidly regimented life) lead to some painfully-comic moments but this book is hardly a laugh. Eleanor’s life is changed when she and a coworker stop to aid an injured man on the street, and you can’t help but cheer for her as she navigates new relationships and situations.

one thing i knowOne Thing I Know by Kara Isaac. A fun read with believable characters. Rachel is the ghostwriter behind a successful relationship coach, and her whole corpus of advice is based on trust, mostly stemming from problems with her father. Radio host Lucas has a host of trust issues thanks to his own dad’s actions, and is tempted by an opportunity to expose Rachel’s secret, but the two start to fall for each other, and that’s where it gets really complicated. I can’t help but be impressed by Isaac’s ability to write for an American audience, as she is a New Zealander.

attachmentsAttachments by Rainbow Rowell. Is there a different word for an epistolary novel written in emails? This brilliant story is half-told via an email exchange between two young journalists, with the other half, in typical narrative style, about the IT guy tasked with reading emails that don’t pass the company’s filter. Lincoln finds himself fascinated by these young women, developing a crush on one of them even as she crushes on him after seeing him in the break room and around town. A fun and believable story with plenty of near-misses to keep it moving, and well-developed characters you can’t help but care about. Don’t miss this one!

just let goJust Let Go by Courtney Walsh. Quinn buys the flower shop her mother abandoned when she left her marriage and family during Quinn’s childhood. Driven to prepare the shop for opening and to create a floral display that will catch the eye of her mother, now a judge of a prestigious contest for floral artists, Quinn feels she has no room in her life for Grady, a bad-boy skier whose rage after losing an important competition lands him in trouble with the law in Quinn’s small town. But for his community service, he’s tasked with helping Quinn at the shop. Predictable, but enjoyable. Second in a series, though that’s not indicated on the cover; I recommend reading Just Look Up first, if only to get a better sense of the setting and the back story of other characters.

her hope discovered

 Her Hope Discovered (Welcome to Ruby #1) by Cynthia Herron. Sweet debut novel on the theme of second chances. An odd supernatural element doesn’t seem to quite fit in a Christian novel, and there were more than a few “do people really talk like that?” moments, but I enjoyed the story of a young female exec who abandoned her career to relocate in a small town, only to meet the widower with two young children whose deceased wife grew up in the house Charla just bought. There’s a second novel coming in the series, and I will look for it.

season of romanceSeason of Romance: Faith-filled, sweet, heartwarming, clean small-town novella (Rios Azules Romances: the Macalisters Book 1) by Alexa Verde. This is a longer version of “Love’s Ransom,” a First Street Church novella. It’s still a novella (its title is almost as long as the book!), and I didn’t see too much that I hadn’t found in the first book, though the plot seemed to be stronger this time around. A good, and fairly realistic, peek into what it’s like to live with a child who has diabetes. Paramedic Melinda has Type 1 diabetes, and she falls for the uncle of the little boy next door, a child who also has Type 1 and whose father was recently killed in an accident.

YA/Children’s

miscalculations of lightning girlThe Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty. Compelling middle-grade novel about a 7th-grader with amazing math abilities. In school for the first time in years, she struggles to find a way to fit in, even hiding her abilities. But she can’t hide a few OCD tendencies, and kids can be cruel. A required small-group service project has unexpected results. Great twist at the end. Highly recommended.

promises to theresaPromises to Theresa by Marianne Komek. What looks like a typical high-school overachiever’s tendency to take on too many activities turns out to be a sign of bipolar disorder, and Theresa Jarewski feels like nothing will be normal again. This novel unmasks the struggles of a bipolar teen, explores her crisis of faith, and celebrates friends strong enough to stick together in tough times. (ARC provided by the author)

Nonfiction

holy hacksHoly Hacks: Everyday Ways to Live Your Faith & Get to Heaven by Patti Maguire Armstrong. Packed with hundreds of do-able ways to grow in holiness, this book is filled with tips, but it’s not simply bullet point after bullet point. Sections of tips are interspersed with introductions of the people whose tips are offered here, explanations of virtue, and information about Catholic practices, which makes for fascinating reading. While it’s fine to read Holy Hacks from start to finish, you might get more out of it if you start at chapter 1, then skip around to the sections you feel you most need at the moment. Like your favorite cookbook, this handbook should be easy to reach when you need it for quick reference. Read my full review. (Review copy received from publisher.)

live today wellLive Today Well: St. Francis de Sales’s Simple Approach to Holiness by Fr. Thomas Dailey, OSFS. This introduction to the writing of St. Francis de Sales synthesized many books and letters into one volume. The book emphasizes the Salesian traditions of using attention and intention to focus on the spiritual, even while we do the most mundane of tasks. St. Francis de Sales emphasizes that holiness is not connected to our state in life, and that everyone can pursue holiness. As intentional living is such a trendy phrase right now, it’s good to unite it with its spiritual origin and seek to intentionally live in a way that brings us ever closer to Christ. I’m interested in reading the primary sources upon which this book is based. (I’m also wondering about that apostrophe-s in the subtitle … )

day the world came to townThe Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede. A very uplifting account of something we didn’t know was happening at the time (because we were too consumed, being close to New York, with the Twin Towers part of the 9/11 attack): the story of several communities in a remote area of Newfoundland who played a unique role in helping stranded travelers immediately after the attack. I’d recommend this to high-school students learning about the events of that day. The book left me wanting to go to Newfoundland and personally thank the people and organizations who dropped everything, raided their own linen closets, and offered amazing hospitality to people who just wanted to go home.


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

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

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

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


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Last Call for Lenten Reading

Last call
Image credit: Pixabay.com (2018), CC0/PD. Modified by author.

With less than a week to go before Lent, it’s time to finalize your spiritual reading plans. My bookshelf is packed with recent releases, and any of these eight books are worthwhile choices for Lent.

called

Begin this one now, and you’ll finish by Holy Week: Called by Kevin Cotter (Ave Maria Press). Subtitled “Becoming an everyday disciple in a post-Christian world,” this book is designed to focus on how Jesus proclaimed the gospel and to inspire others to do the same. What does it mean to be a disciple? How do we live that life? Most days, entries are three pages long, which is an easy enough commitment. You’ll find fascinating background information that will help you understand the gospel better. A reflection question ends each day’s entry. The approach is tied into a program the author recommends, Alpha for Catholics, a faith study based on a model developed by Protestants. Readers will learn to look at everything in their lives and ask, “Does this help me follow Jesus?”

remember your death

Designed to be read day by day during Lent, Remember Your Death: Memento Mori Lenten Devotional by Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, fsp (Pauline Books & Media) was a surprise to me. I was afraid that all this talk of death would feel really morbid — but that’s not the case at all. It’s at once challenging, comforting, and hopeful. Memento mori reminds us why we live, and the power we have through Baptism to live for God. I confess that I opened this book and started reading and didn’t stop until I’d gone through almost a week’s worth of reflections. (Then I figured I’d better save some for Lent!)

this is our faith

Are you looking for a refresher course on the Faith? Michael Pennock’s This Is Our Faith: A Catholic Catechism of Adults (Ave Maria Press), newly revised and updated, is an excellent book to read through the season. I’ve done the math for you: read only 9 pages per day and you’ll be finished before Easter! Each chapter begins with a story or reflection, then follows a question-and-answer format to lead readers through an in-depth presentation on each of the four pillars of the Catechism: the Profession of Faith; celebration of the sacraments, liturgy, and the Paschal Mystery; life in Christ (foundations of morality); and Christian prayer.

strangeness of truth

Leave The Strangeness of Truth around for your teenager to find. Father Damian J. Ference’s new book (Pauline Books & Media) has a cover that reminds me of vintage sci-fi novels (and is even designed to appear scarred and well-worn) but there’s no fiction here — just a dynamic use of the power of story to bring home the mysteries of God’s love in our lives and our world. Fr. Ference explains in the preface that each chapter of the book builds upon the next, so it’s best read from start to finish, and even better if read with a friend. Chapters are short and each include a story at the beginning and another at the end, plus some explanation of the chapter’s topic and (sometimes) the story of a saint whose life fits in with that topic.

jesus and jewish roots of mary

Take a new look at the Blessed Mother as you read Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary by Brant Pitre (Image Books). Learn what the Bible says about Mary, what early Christians believed about her, and how our Catholic beliefs about Mary are rooted in ancient Jewish tradition. This book is great for anyone with a devotion to the Blessed Mother as well as for people who want to deepen their understanding of her role in salvation history.

Two new additions to the Catholic Treasury series from Pauline Books & Media are perfect for devotional prayer at home or in the Adoration Chapel. Mary, Mother of God Prayer Book by Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, fsp, and Eucharistic Adoration Prayer Book by Sr. Marie Paul Curley, fsp, are both beautiful, gift-quality books that are small enough to tuck into your handbag and bring to the chapel (or to read anywhere). Sturdy leatherette covers with gold embossing, gold-edged pages, and ribbon bookmarks complement the simple design of the books, which are filled with basic prayers such as the Mysteries of the Rosary, various novenas, and litanies, in addition to original meditations.

fourth cup

Lent (and particularly Holy Week) is an excellent time to meditate on the Last Supper and Jesus’ Passion and death. In The Fourth Cup (Image Books), Dr. Scott Hahn explains the connections between the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the ancient Jewish rituals of Passover. If you’re interested in exploring the Passover references throughout the Old and New Testaments, this book details how everything fits together and even informs the way we celebrate Mass.


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Holy Hacks

Holy hacks-F
Part of my own collection of holy tools: San Damiano cross, statue of Our Lady of Fatima, rosary, Holy Hacks book, statue of St. Michael the Archangel, holy water, and statue of St. Philomena (to remind me to pray for a child in my family who is sick). Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

My name is Barb, and I’m addicted to tips. Hand me a magazine and I’ll flip through to any helpful-hints article I can find. I have (physical and virtual) folders filled with cooking tips, tricks for kitchen organization, and strategies for keeping the laundry clean. And that’s before you count in the hacks I’ve been collecting lately, all related to making sure my teenager, who has type 1 diabetes, stays as healthy as possible.

Patti Maguire Armstrong’s new book fills in a gap in my tips-and-tricks collection, a gap I didn’t even realize was there. Holy Hacks: Everyday ways to live your faith & get to heaven (Ave Maria Press) is packed with hundreds of do-able ways to grow in holiness.

holy hacks

The author has done her research far and wide: from family customs to papal encyclicals (as far back as the 15th century!) to her own friends to Catholics in the media to Scripture and the saints and more, Patti Maguire Armstrong’s collection of tips truly has something for everyone.

Think of it as a cookbook. You don’t thumb through the pages feeling overwhelmed because you don’t have time to make every recipe. Instead, you find things that grab your attention, things that you would like to make. The key is to do everything in love, for and with Jesus, and in his name. (5-6)

Since I love to cook, I found this comparison spot-on. While it’s fine to read Holy Hacks from start to finish, you might get more out of it if you start at chapter 1, then skip around to the sections you feel you most need at the moment. Like your favorite cookbook, this handbook should be easy to reach when you need it for quick reference.

This book is filled with tips, but it’s not simply bullet point after bullet point. Sections of tips are interspersed with introductions of the people whose tips are offered here, explanations of virtue, and information about Catholic practices, which makes for fascinating reading.

Here’s a sampling of tips, one from each chapter, that I’ve already found myself doing or want to do more:

Chapter 1: Living the Holy Hack Life

Multitask with inspirational music, podcasts, or Catholic radio while folding laundry and doing other mundane tasks.

I’m on it! I particularly enjoy the Catholic Momcast, Among Women with Pat Gohn, Girlfriends with Danielle Bean, and Clerically Speaking.

Chapter 2: Holy Hacks for Humility

Resolve to compliment at least one person every day. Especially compliment people in conversation with others when they aren’t even present.

I have a friend who is fabulous at this; it seems to be in her nature never to leave a conversation without complimenting someone. I definitely want to follow her example.

Chapter 3: Hacks for Holy Relationships

Sacrifice your own preferences for someone else’s.

(This one would build humility too, I think!)

Chapter 4: Holy Prayer Hacks

Sing a hymn.

I do this! Singing is one of my favorite ways to pray.

Chapter 5: Holy Hacks for Spiritual Protection

Use prayers of spiritual protection such as St. Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer and the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel.

I would like to memorize St. Patrick’s Breastplate this year. I already keep a little St. Michael statue on my desk to remind me to pray that prayer at least once a day (he’s pictured above).

Chapter 6: Holy Hacks for Evangelizing

Use social media not only to send messages and articles but also to engage with people. On Facebook, don’t unfriend people with anti-Catholic views. Ask them questions, express your views calmly, and pray for them. Be respectful and insist on the same.

Do the people who follow you on social media know you’re Catholic? Are you witnessing for the faith on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? I love these tips for using those platforms in a positive way.

Chapter 7: Holy Hacks Against Gossip

Before you open your mouth to gossip, stop and imagine you were the subject of the news you are tempted to reveal.

What a great strategy, and one you can also teach to your children.

Chapter 8: Holy Hacks from Catholics in the Media

I keep a little notebook on my nightstand for prayer requests and then ask Our Lady every morning to intercede “for all the intentions in my notebook.” When I run out of space, I buy a new one and on the first line write, “All of the intentions in my previous notebooks.” (Susan Brinkmann, OCDS, of Women of Grace)

Terrific tip! I have been looking for a way to organize prayer intentions and this seems perfect. I particularly like that you don’t have to have some kind of perfect system. You just start right now, and keep on going.

Chapter 9: Holy Hacks for Lent

Abstain from something at each meal. It could be mustard on your sandwich, the main course, French fries, salad dressing … just something that is a sacrifice. St. Francis de Sales advised people never to leave the table without having refused themselves something.

This is a great example of those little, silent sacrifices that can add up. I’d add: offer the sacrifice for a particular prayer intention.

Chapter 10: Holy Hacks for Christmas, Easter, and Other Holidays

Don’t put baby Jesus in the manger until Christmas morning.

We do this, and always have!

Who should read this book?

Anyone! Holy Hacks will inspire people with families as well as singles, and most tips are appropriate for people of any age.
Barb's Book shelf blog title


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Four for Lent

It’s almost Lent: time to take a look at this year’s newest resources, including one newly re-released gem you can use the whole year long.

One for the Family

With Our Savior
Families with school-age children will enjoy Claire McGarry’s With Our Savior: Family Devotions for Lent. Each day begins with a line or two from Scripture, followed by a short reflection: sometimes a story with a message, sometimes a vignette about a famous person, sometimes an explanation of something from the Bible. A one-sentence prayer focuses on the meat of the story. Finally, there’s an action item, ranging from questions to spark conversation at the dinner table to prompts for works of mercy the family can do together. This inexpensive 48-page booklet is available directly from the publisher, Creative Communications for the Parish, and on Kindle.

One for Your Teen

lent one day at a time

Give your teenagers their own devotional. Katie Prejean McGrady and Tommy McGrady’s Lent: One Day at a Time for Catholic Teens (Ave Maria Press) starts out with a scenario we can all relate to: that absent-minded way we break out “Lenten resolution” only one week in. Leading off with this story allows the McGradys to remind the reader that Lent doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing kind of thing, but is instead supposed to be a time when we can re-center our lives: on Jesus.
Each Sunday offers a challenge for the week and suggestions for making it happen, as well as a Gospel reflection, journal prompt (and space to write right there in the booklet), and short prayer. Journal prompts for the rest of the week will require a separate journal; each Saturday the week wraps up with an examination of conscience of sorts, based on the challenge from the Sunday before. It’s an easy-to-use book and inexpensive enough to purchase for a whole class or youth group.

One for the Worrier (like me!)

give up worry for Lent
Gary Zimak makes no secret about the fact that he’s a worrier, which makes him the perfect person to write encouraging books for other people who worry too. New from Ave Maria Press, Give Up Worry for Lent: 40 Days to Finding Peace in Christ is a devotional for people who make a habit of worrying. I appreciate that Gary never takes the tactic that if only you trusted God more, you magically wouldn’t experience anxiety anymore. He does talk about trust, but in a way that encourages the reader instead of dismissing their suffering.
Each day’s reflection begins with a short Scripture passage; following this, there’s a reflection (about a page long), an area called “Respond” with a spiritual action item, often including a way to turn around the tendency to worry or be anxious and instead, turn to God. A short prayer wraps up the day’s section.

One for the Whole Year

Around-the-Year
Lenten devotionals are wonderful, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Maria von Trapp’s re-released Around the Year with the von Trapp Family in my list of Lenten must-reads. With this one, your best bet is to start reading it early, because it’s a guide on living the liturgical year, and in many parts of the world, that includes Carnival! Learn about the Old World customs that you can import into your family life. As you move into the Lenten season, read about Maria’s spiritual-reading program, a discussion of fasting and society’s motives for fasting (which reads like something written in 2019, not 1955!), and other Lenten practices.
Around the Year is a book you’ll want to keep handy the whole year long: it’s packed with recipes, descriptions of and historical information about customs, family stories, and even hymns and folk songs – with music! Sophia Institute Press has packaged this book as a beautiful hardcover with lovely touches and simple illustrations. (And if you’re a Sound of Music fan, this is definitely not to be missed.)

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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.

#OpenBook: January 2019 Reads

open book logo

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. I didn’t get a lot of reading done in January because I let one giant nonfiction book (see below) occupy most of my reading time.

Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:

Fiction

just look upJust Look Up by Courtney Walsh. In a novel that’s an indictment of a high-powered workaholic lifestyle, Courtney Walsh tells the story of Lane, an interior designer who’s on the verge of making it big in the big city after running away from the betrayals she felt in her family and hometown. Called home when her brother is involved in a serious accident, Lane is forced to examine her personal and professional priorities. A good story, and I liked the setting of Lane’s hometown.

loves choiceLove’s Choice by Liwen Y. Ho (First Street Church Romances. A sweet story about a young pregnant woman who’s kicked out by her abusive boyfriend and returns home, only to run into the high-school boyfriend who still carries a torch for her. He’s a little TOO perfect, and the religious part felt forced (do people really talk like that?) but it’s a hopeful read just the same.

mistletoe kissMistletoe Kiss by Andrea Boyd. Friends since childhood, Rae and Chase kiss under the mistletoe at an amusement park’s attempt to break a world record. Then they both discover that maybe they don’t want to be just friends – but neither of them knows how to take the next step. Cute Christmas story.

YA/Children’s

i am god's storyteller coverI Am God’s Storyteller by Lisa M. Hendey. This picture book is a celebration of each child’s — each person’s — God-given creativity and an encouragement to use that creativity to share the Good News with others. The writing is almost lyrical in its cadence and lends itself wonderfully to a read-aloud. And the illustrations by Eric Carlson are fun and inviting, yet not garish. Read my full review. (ARC received from the publisher).

Nonfiction

prairie fires

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser. A well-researched tome (500 pages BEFORE the footnotes) covering the time before Laura’s birth to present day, but not without considerable political bias. The author’s tone indicates scorn or resentment toward Rose’s political leanings. It doesn’t seem like the author likes or admires Laura. While hagiography isn’t necessary, neither is the almost gleeful digging into the Ingalls and Wilder families’ dirt. Normally I don’t cover books in this space if I wouldn’t give them at least 3 stars out of 5, but I’m making an exception because I grew up a big fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who enjoyed the children’s books for what they are: one person’s memoirs written as fiction for a young audience.


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

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

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

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


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: I am God’s Storyteller

i am god's storyteller cover

Lisa M. Hendey’s new picture book, I am God’s Storyteller, coming February 12 from Paraclete Press, has an important message for its young audience as well as those who read the book aloud to the children in their lives:

God gave me eyes to see, a heart to feel, a mind to ponder, and gifts and talents to share his stories in my own way.

It’s a beautiful message, beautifully presented. The writing is almost lyrical in its cadence and lends itself wonderfully to a read-aloud. And the illustrations by Eric Carlson are fun and inviting, yet not garish.

Readers of this book will be treated to a little bit of Bible history as the people who told God’s story through their lives and witness are chronicled: Moses, Sarah, King David, and Isaiah in the Old Testament; and New Testament figures including Jesus, Mary, and the disciples.

Then the book shifts the focus to us: it’s our mission to be God’s storytellers too. Lisa encourages children to tell God’s story in varied ways.

We don’t have to be grownups to be storytellers. Remember how much Jesus loved sharing his stories with children?

I am God’s Storyteller is a celebration of each child’s — each person’s — God-given creativity and an encouragement to use that creativity to share the Good News with others. It’s also an affirmation that each of us has unique talents, and all of those talents are valuable: writing, creating visual art, singing, dancing, inventing games, acting — all of these ways of using the imagination can help us tell God’s story.

i am gods storyteller_print_lores_reference-page-029
Copyright 2019 Lisa M. Hendey and Eric Carlson. Used with the kind permission of Paraclete Press. All rights reserved.

An author’s note at the end of the book urges parents, teachers, and caregivers to foster children’s creativity and love of reading in a variety of concrete ways. But the message for parents, grandparents, and other adults goes beyond that one page: we’re never too young — or too old — to share the Good News with the world around us, and God has given each of us a specific ability and mission to do just that.


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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

Read-alouds for Snowy Days

read-alouds for snowy days

January’s almost over, but that doesn’t mean the end of winter is here. We’re all waiting for the groundhog to see his shadow (or not) and predict the coming of spring, and you probably don’t wanna build another snowman. Instead, snuggle up with your little ones and their favorite warm blanket and enjoy these new read-alouds! (I mixed in one activity book, just for some extra fun.)

little prayers for little onesLittle Prayers for Little Ones by Patricia Edward Jablonski, FSP, and illustrated by Becky Fawson, uses rhyme to teach children about different types of prayer: adoration, supplication (contrition is included in this section), intercession, thanksgiving, and praise. This board book encourages young children to pray often:

And God made me! I am special and loved! I am a child of my Father above!
My Father listens to all that I say. I talk to God. I can pray every day.

Each section of the book provides examples of how and when a child might talk to God using this type of prayer. A note to parents, guardians, and teachers at the end of the book explains that teaching children to pray spontaneously sets the stage for them to learn the traditional prayers of the Church as they grow. (Pauline Books & Media)

word of the lordThe Word of the Lord, a new board book by Katie Warner, illustrated by Meg Whalen, is a first book of Scripture verses for very young children. Simple, colorful illustrations accompany each Scripture verse. Take advantage of small children’s ability to memorize their favorite books: they’ll soon know beautiful passages from Scripture by heart (and so will you!). The verses included in the book are ordered as they appear in Scripture, beginning with Exodus 20:12 and ending with Philippians 4:4. (TAN Books)

i pray every dayI Pray Every Day, by Patricia Edward Jablonski, FSP (the same author who wrote Little Prayers for Little Ones) and illustrated by Mary Elizabeth Tebo, FSP, is designed to help primary readers learn to pray throughout the day. The children depicted in the book pray upon waking up, before and after meals, when they are sick, if they’ve done something wrong, and all throughout the day. Samples of spontaneous prayer are included, and at the end of the book, there’s a section of special prayers: the Sign of the Cross, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be. (Pauline Books & Media)

i pray the massThis author also wrote I Pray the Mass for the same age group. The book begins with a map of the world, explaining that all over the world, Catholics go to Mass. Next, the child is walked through various aspects of Mass: the Sign of the Cross at the holy-water font,smiling at family and friends who are also attending Mass, the entrance rite, the Liturgy of the Word, the homily and Creed, the Presentation of the Gifts, the Consecration, the Our Father, the sign of peace, receiving Communion, and thanksgiving and recessional. Each of these is described in the book and has a short spontaneous prayer the child can read and pray. The section on Communion is especially directed toward children who have not yet received the sacrament:

It is time to receive Jesus’ Body in the host, and Jesus’ Blood from the chalice.
When I am old enough, I can receive Jesus too! …
I pray:
Jesus, I love you very much! Amen.

With cute illustrations by Mernie Gallagher-Cole, this book is perfect for children in kindergarten and first grade who are curious about what’s happening at Mass. Read it with them during the week, then let them bring the book to church to focus their attention on the different parts of Mass. (Pauline Books & Media)

sword and capeChildren who love superheroes and action stories will be enthralled by the exciting tale about St. Martin of Tours, The Sword and the Cape, by Pamela Love. This picture book for young readers introduces young Martin, whose family expected him to become a Roman soldier but who instead wanted to follow Jesus. Readers will be surprised at the way Martin uses his sword — and then about Martin’s dream the following night! The book ends with a one-page biography of the saint and a prayer to St. Martin of Tours that children can pray. (Pauline Books & Media)

jorge argentinaElementary readers can learn all about what Pope Francis’ life was like before he became Pope by reading Jorge from Argentina: The Story of Pope Francis for Children. Written by Marlyn Monge, FSP, and Jaymie Stuart Wolfe, and with an introduction geared to the young reader by Cardinal Séan O’Malley, OFM Cap., this book begins with the wedding of Mario and Regina Bergoglio and even includes a pronunciation guide for names and places. Readers will learn about the Pope’s early life as a big brother, a child in school, a First Communicant, and his realization that he was called to serve God as a priest. Highlights from the Pope’s days as a priest and bishop follow, and the book concludes with Francis’ election as Pope and his first World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. (Pauline Books & Media)

fun with angelsGrab the crayons and colored pencils: the Fun with Angels coloring and activity book is packed with 64 pages of word searches, coloring pages, seek-and-find puzzles, mazes, codes, and more, all coming together to teach children about the ways in which God has sent angels to help people since the beginning of time – concluding with a lesson about our own guardian angels. (Pauline Books & Media)

Storybooks like these make excellent gifts for baptisms, Valentine’s Day, and even Easter baskets, if you’re thinking that far ahead.


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz
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.

#Open Book: December 2018 Reads

open book logo

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:

Christmas

where treetops glistenWhere Treetops Glisten by Tricia Goyer, Cara Putman, and Sarah Sundin: three linked Christmas romance novellas set during World War II. This was a lovely series with nearly-seamless storytelling; you couldn’t really tell that different authors were behind the three stories. Set in Lafayette, Indiana, these stores span several wartime Christmases and focus on the three Turner siblings and how the war has changed their lives.

designs on loveDesigns on Love by Myra Johnson. Unlike Johnson’s other books that I’ve recently read, this novella is a post-Civil-War tale set (mostly) in Texas. Vera leaves Philadelphia, where she’s studying fashion design, to return to her rural home town when she learns her family has succumbed to yellow fever. Ready and willing to help Vera pick up the pieces of her broken heart and failing family business is ranch hand Jacob, who’d had a crush on Vera since their school days.

perfect giftThe Perfect Gift by Elaine Manders. Macy, a pharmaceutical student about to graduate and take a job in a famous firm, is dating the boss’s son but has a secret: she’s not the society girl she pretends to be. She knows she needs to confess the truth before Christmas, but she also wants to give her boyfriend a gift that will convince his parents that she’s the right girl for him.

Fiction

hidden legacyThe Hidden Legacy by Carrie Sue Barnes. This story is told through the reminiscences of Annie, who leaves her Boston home and fiancé during World War I to serve as a nurse in France. She recounts her adventures to her granddaughter during her final illness — shedding light on a family secret that shocks Laurel, whose own love life is in turmoil as a new relationship is endangered by the return of an old flame.

her sisters shoes

Her Sister’s Shoes (Sweeney Sisters #1) by Ashley Farley. This is the first in a series, but I felt as if I’d missed some back story. Three sisters struggle to keep a family business afloat and keep their eyes on their mom, who shows signs of dementia, while each dealing with family crises of their own: an unfaithful husband, an abusive husband, and a depressed wheelchair-bound son. It was a LOT all at once.

children of main streetThe Children of Main Street by Merilyn Howton Marriott. Psychotherapist Katie Collier hadn’t planned on working with kids, but it always seems to turn out that way. Meanwhile, she and her husband grieve her infertility. When Katie begins letting some of the most broken, at-risk children stay in their home, her marriage begins to crumble. While I had questions about the ethical implications of some of Katie’s practices, I enjoyed the story.

it was mineIt was Mine by Jeanne Grunert. This novella is a George Bailey story that begins with a Twilight-Zone scene: Stanley, who’d given up an ambitious life plan to care for his aging parents, is a beloved retired teacher in his community. The ancient furnace his father installed in the family home is on the fritz, and Stanley meets a man posing as the furnace repairman who offers him the opportunity to find out what his life would have been like had he abandoned his family and followed his dreams. It’s not at all spooky, and the twist at the end is not to be missed.

keeping lucyKeeping Lucy by T. Greenwood. Her rich in-laws expect perfection, so when Ginny’s baby is born with Down Syndrome, the family whisks the child off to an institution. Two years later (1969), Ginny learns that this school is under investigation for mistreatment of the residents, and goes there to see for herself. She and her best friend Marsha wind up taking Lucy from the institution, then taking off to Florida with the toddler and Ginny’s six-year-old while they desperately try to figure out how to protect the child. An excellent suspense novel, coming August 2019. (Netgalley review)

wildflower heartWildflower Heart by Grace Greene. Kara is recovering physically and psychologically from the accident that claimed her husband’s life. Her father buys a house out in the country without explanation, and Kara is along for the ride, but she resolves not to get too settled in there. As she and her father begin to restore the old house, she finds herself healing not only from the trauma of the accident but from her mother’s death during Kara’s teen years, and learns more about her father’s own woundedness. A good story, but Kara seemed so remote, it was hard to care about what happened to her. Coming January 22. (Netgalley review)

i owe you oneI Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella. Fixie Farr tries to keep the family business from going under while her mother grieves her father’s death, her ambitious brother takes financial risks to make the business more upscale, and her ditzy sister insists on opening a yoga studio in the middle of the housewares store. Fixie’s infatuation with an old crush leads her to risk a relationship with a guy who could actually be good for her. As usual, Sophie Kinsella never disappoints. Coming February 5. (Netgalley review)

Nonfiction

make my life simpleRachel Balducci’s Make My Life Simple, published by Our Sunday Visitor, hits the sweet spot of memoir/tip book combination: it’s practical and encouraging without talking down to the reader. Three sections focus on practical peace (order within the home), personal order, and peace and order in our spiritual growth. This is not a long book, but you’ll want to spend a while reading it so you can let ideas sink in, or scribble in your notebook about it. Read my full review. (Advance review copy received from publisher.)

grace of enoughHaley Stewart’s The Grace of Enough: Pursuing less and living more in a throwaway culture, from Ave Maria Press, challenges readers to embrace simplicity in a way that works for them. We can’t all move to sustainable farms and raise our own chickens. We canall make big and small changes regarding how we pray, how much stuff we own, and how we spend our time. We can all find ways to savor family life, even if our husbands commute 50 miles each way instead of just down the road. Read my full review. (Advance review copy received from publisher.)

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

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

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

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


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz