On Barb’s Bookshelf: Back-to-School Reads from Pauline Books

As the summer winds down and the school year begins, it’s time to look at some books for readers of all ages from Pauline Books and Media. I’ve organized these by age, beginning with one for the bedtime-story set.

beginnings
Beginnings by Lori Ann Watson is an excellent read-aloud for the start of a school year. Capitalizing on young children’s fascination with the natural world, Watson shows the beginnings of such diverse things as flowers, rivers, trees, butterflies, rainstorms and baby birds, then concludes with a child’s own beginning: God giving a child to a family, where the baby grows within the mother’s womb and then is born. This book carries a beautiful message about God’s love and God’s loving plan. Reinforcing the humanity of the unborn child, Beginnings would make a special gift for a child feeling a bit displaced by the impending birth of a sibling. Beautiful, gently-colored illustrations by Shennen Bersani complement the story and feature children from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.

beatitudes explained
The Beatitudes Explained by Silvia Vecchini is for independent readers in intermediate school. This book, available Tuesday, August 15, is a small booklet that breaks down the beloved teaching from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount into lesson-sized pieces. Each Beatitude is related to other Gospel stories, events or parables. Readers then consider what Jesus is asking us to do, and read “Words to Live By” which come from Scripture or saints. Finally, the “Notebook” pages at the end of each section offer journal prompts about how we can better live the Beatitudes on a daily basis. This book is an excellent supplement for religious-education classes and would also be a good resource for families to work through together.
anointed
Anointed: Gifts of the Holy Spirit by Pope Francis (compiled by Jaymie Stuart Wolfe) is designed specifically for teens who are preparing for Confirmation or are newly Confirmed. Most of the book is comprised of quotes from Pope Francis’ Wednesday Audiences. These short quotes are laid out on colorful pages with energetic, eye-catching design. Grouped according to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the quotes are encouraging and inspiring. The final chapter is made up of prayers, many of which are Holy-Spirit centered. There is also a short introduction to Lectio Divina, a list of Bible verses to inspire prayer, and a list of relevant sections from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I like the idea of gifting this book to teens at the beginning of their formal sacrament preparation so it can be used as a prayer resource for them as they ready their souls to receive the Holy Spirit. Visit Pauline Books to preview this book and download a free poster!
jesus speaks to you

 

A new Catholic coloring book from artist Veruschka Guerra, Jesus Speaks to You, provides a creative prayer outlet for fans of coloring books. Beautiful images inspired by Jesus’ words in Scripture fill the pages of this large-format book. My favorite design is an intricate botanical drawing inspired by the Parable of the Mustard Seed (but I reserve the right to change my mind about that as I keep coloring in this book!) You can download a free sample page from the coloring book along with a coupon code for a special offer through August 14.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given free review copies of these books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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The “Liberty” Series: Win this Catholic Dystopian Trilogy

Theresa Linden’s “Liberty” series will appeal to older teens and adults who enjoy dystopian fiction. I’ve ordered a copy of the first book, Chasing Liberty, for my teenager, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be fighting over that book.

Liberty trilogy – A young woman named Liberty lives in a dystopian society where the earth has been elevated above man and the government controls everything. Moving from one trial to another—escapes, imprisonment, secret missions, rescues, 3D games—this action-packed trilogy follows Liberty to her final sacrifice as she learns that true freedom is within, cannot be taken away, and is worth fighting for. The titles in the series are Chasing Liberty, Testing Liberty and Fight for Liberty.

chasing liberty trilogy promotion
Courtesy of Theresa Linden. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Enter the Chasing Liberty Trilogy Giveaway for a chance to win the complete trilogy!

Giveaway ends: 12:00AM July 9th

Winner will be announced at the end of Sabbath Rest Book Talk, 7:00PM July 9th and later posted on author website.

Learn more about why the author chose to write Catholic dystopian fiction.

Fight for Liberty will be on Erin McCole Cupp’s Sabbath Rest Book Talk July 9th. The theme for the books discussed in July: revolution!

Theresa LindenAbout Theresa Linden: Raised in a military family, Theresa Linden developed a strong patriotism and a sense of adventure. Love for faith, family, and freedom inspired her to write the dystopian Chasing Liberty trilogy. Her other published works include award-winning Roland West, Loner, first in a series of Catholic teen fiction, Life-Changing Love, and Battle for His Soul. A member of the Catholic Writers Guild, she balances her time between family, homeschooling, and writing.

Visit Theresa on Facebook, her blog Things Visible & Invisible, or on her website. Or follow her on Twitter.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.
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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Born to Soar,” a spiritual journal

The beautiful monarch butterfly is the source of much fascination, the subject of many grade-school science lessons, and the motif around which Born to Soar, Melissa Overmyer’s new Scripture and prayer journal (Servant Books, 2017), was created.

The image of soaring flight evoked by a brilliant butterfly is a metaphor for the soaring prayer experiences described in the poetry of the mystic St. John of the Cross. The author includes short excerpts of this mystical poetry to remind the reader that, in prayer, our hearts seek to soar toward heaven.

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This journal is designed to be used over the course of six weeks, so it’s a perfect summer spiritual retreat. Each of the six chapters of the book corresponds to one of the stages in the life cycle of the caterpillar who ultimately becomes a beautiful butterfly. That science lesson we remember from grade school becomes a lesson for our souls in Born to Soar.

Don’t let the butterflies and flowers on the cover of the book fool you: this journal is designed to push you out of your spiritual comfort zone and motivate you to explore ways in which you can take the risk of growing closer to God.

Praying through journaling can be a liberating and beautiful means of expression. Your writing can take on the feeling of a love letter or a song and can be accompanied by a heart-wrenching release of emotions. . . . Do not be afraid of writing down how you truly feel — God knows your heart already. Instead, offer yourself — in all your beauty and your brokenness — freely to God and ask him to use your journal to bring you closer to him. Do not be afraid to give it all to God, who can turn our ashes to beauty, heal our deepest wounds, and set us free. (from the Introduction, p. xvii)

Each of the six sessions follows this format:

  • Description of the physical stage of the caterpillar’s life cycle
  • Overmyer’s reflection on how this stage compares to the process of spiritual renewal
  • Thoughts to ponder, with space for journaling
  • A moment with St. John of the Cross, including a quote from the saint’s writings, questions for reflection, and space for journaling
  • Thoughts for discussion (for group discussion or journal prompts)
  • Prayer
  • A “renewing truth” to be revisited on multiple occasions during the course of the week
  • Scripture passages for daily reflection, followed by a journal prompt and space for writing

I’d recommend Born to Soar to any reader who seeks to go deeper in the spiritual life. Overmyer makes the mystical works of St. John of the Cross accessible even to people like me who tend toward the practical. Her inviting approach and simple language engage the reader; I found myself wanting to go beyond each day’s reflections because I was hungry for what would come next.
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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: McCracken and the Lost Lady

Engineer, solver of mysteries, faithful Catholic and owner of a zeppelin: “Mac” McCracken is an intriguing character even before he ventures into the Russian wilderness in search of a lost icon.

Fifth in Mark Adderley’s adventure series for readers 10 and up, McCracken and the Lost Lady can be read as a standalone story due to the author’s careful inclusion of just enough backstory to inform the reader of what came before–without quenching the reader’s desire to read the rest of the novels.

Lost Lady Front Cover

In the spring of 1917, the world is embroiled in an ugly war and on the brink of change as revolutionaries are poised to take over the government in Russia. McCracken and his team overhear a conversation that leads them straight to Lenin, then receive a surprise commission to seek out the missing icon of the Blessed Mother: the lost Lady of Kazan. Restoration of this icon to its proper place is key to bringing peace to the world.

As we celebrate the centennial of the Fatima apparitions this year, McCracken and the Lost Lady is the perfect historical fiction to accompany a discussion of the historical context of the Blessed Mother’s message at Fatima.

Readers will enjoy the suspense and adventure that follows McCracken as he travels the world with his wife and toddler plus a fascinating crew from all over the world–in a zeppelin complete with its own library, chef’s kitchen, and a wealth of scientific equipment.

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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

#OpenBook: March 2017 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

Rightfully Ours coverRightfully Ours by Carolyn Astfalk. In this refreshing YA romance, readers have the chance to get into the head of the romantic hero. Paul lives in the Muellers’ guesthouse during his father’s deployment. He and Rachel, his landlords’ daughter, find their friendship turning into something deeper; while they struggle against temptation and Rachel’s dad’s opposition to their relationship, they discover historic artifacts buried beneath Rachel’s flower garden. I found Paul to be a more likable character than Rachel, perhaps because she is a few years younger than he and a little more immature. Full review coming Friday! (ARC)

upsie daisyUpsie-Daisy: The Adventures of Lee and Bucky Book 999 by Jane Lebak. I’m a big fan of the Lee and Bucky adventures, and this prequel did not disappoint! The story introduces Lee, a clever mechanic who loves her job but can’t bring herself to tell anyone where she works–and whose mother writes resignation letters and mails them to Lee’s boss. You’ll also meet Bucky, Lee’s guardian angel who likes listening to Fleetwood Mac, is quick with the witty banter, and is all about seeing to the state of Lee’s soul. Lebak creates terrific characters and puts them in interesting situations.

sleepingwitness.inddThe Sleeping Witness: A Father Gabriel Mystery by Fiorella deMaria. I read this fast-paced mystery in a single cozy evening. Father Gabriel and his monastic cohorts are a fascinating cast of characters, though I’d have liked more character development. Father Gabriel finds himself defending Dr. Paige, a man he admits is unlikable and who appears guilty–but the priest is convinced there’s more behind the attack on the doctor’s wife. Set in postwar England, the book touches on some harrowing consequences of the war and the secrets borne even by residents of a sleepy, remote hamlet. Read my full review. (ARC)

almost missed youAlmost Missed You by Jessica Strawser. Violet, Finn and their little boy are enjoying a beach vacation when Finn takes their son to their hotel room for a nap–but makes a clean getaway with the little boy instead. This novel turns upon things that almost didn’t happen: all those tiny incidences that, when put together, shape a life. The tale also centers on the secrets we keep–and the ones we share–and the ways in which betrayal of those secrets threatens to tear everything apart. The seeming perfection of Violet and Finn’s marriage is undone by those secrets–the kind that, the longer you keep them, ensnare you all the more. (Netgalley)

making facesMaking Faces by Amy Harmon. A complicated, and very worthwhile, story of sacrificial love. Fern is a romantic at heart–she wants to be the next bestselling author of Harlequin novels–and spends most of her time as a caring companion for her cousin Bailey, who suffers from a degenerative nerve disease and considers himself useless. Fern doesn’t think she has a chance with the handsome Ambrose, who tries to leave the pressures of competitive wrestling behind to enlist in the military with a group of his classmates. When Ambrose is the only one of the group to survive a bomb blast, the whole town is turned upside-down, and Ambrose’s disfigurement makes him believe he’s unworthy of love. Worth it for the surprise ending.

granny torelli makes soupGranny Torelli Makes Soup by Sharon Creech. Sweet novel for middle-grade readers. A grandmother teaches her granddaughter and her best friend, a boy from across the street, some life lessons while they cook pasta and soup. The children are navigating the difficult world of jealousy in friendship, and parallels to Granny Torelli’s own life help them figure out better ways of handling things.

Nonfiction

getting past perfectGetting Past Perfect by Kate Wicker. We need to acknowledge that there’s a difference between perfectionism and striving for excellence. This book offers a great deal of encouragement to moms at all stages of mothering. Read my full review.

 

all inAll In: Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters by Pat Gohn. Readers on any stop along their faith journey can benefit from the wisdom and action steps provided here, on their way to going “all in.” 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!

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

 

Copyight 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: All In

Pat Gohn is “all in” with her faith, and it shows. She hosts Among Women, a podcast that celebrates faithful women through interviews and stories of saints. She’s the editor of Catechist magazine. And her first book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious (Ave Maria Press, 2013), challenged women to be bold about living their faith.

Pat’s second book, All In (Ave Maria Press, 2017), is addressed to an audience that might be dealing with discouragement, uncertainty, and a lack of deep commitment. Subtitled, “Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters,” this book encourages readers to begin by making a healthy self-assessment of their faith. In chapter 1, Pat observes,

“Even though I may not always feel like a confident person and I fail and flail on a regular basis, my own frailties do not undermine my confidence in my faith. They provide a catalyst to turn to my faith and to place my trust and hope in the eternal truth and goodness of a God who loves me. God came to save and redeem every frailty, every weakness, every sin, and every broken heart.” (15)

all in

Pat is realistic about facing the obstacles that come with an imperfect Church. Because the “flawed humanity of the institution of the Church” (32) is clearly visible and often well-publicized, it can lead people to question why and whether to stand with the Church. Pat responds to this stumbling block by reminding the reader that the Church is the Bride of Christ, delving deep into marriage imagery and concluding that the Church’s “source of power is the Beloved who came from Heaven in search of her, and who longs for her to make her home with him there.” (42)

Honest discussions of sin, mercy, grace, the Sacraments, and human dignity fill out this book. Each chapter concludes with a 3-part reflection: pray, learn and engage. This last section includes concrete action steps readers can take to heal or deepen their relationship with God and with the Church.

This book is just as much for the struggling and/or “recovering” Catholic as it is for the faithful churchgoer. Readers on any stop along their faith journey can benefit from the wisdom and action steps provided here, on their way to going “all in.”

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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you!

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

Monday Recap: January 2, 2017

 

 

It’s the first Monday of the month, so I’ve gathered up links to the work I’ve done in other spaces.

At CatholicMom.com

i-played-my-best-for-him

I Played My Best for Him: A meditation on my favorite Christmas song. It’s not a traditional carol, but it sums up what we need to do every day.

featured-nativity-linkup

2016 Nativity Scene Linkup: Our Celebration of the Creche: Join our Nativity scene linkup! Share a photo of your family’s Nativity scene on your blog, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Don’t forget the hashtag: #CMnativity. Open through January 8!

book notes

Book Notes for Teen Readers: Romance and Mystery by Cynthia T. Toney: Cynthia T. Toney writes novels for teens that combine Catholic characters, compelling mysteries and a touch of romance. I introduce readers to the “Bird Face” series, which would make great gifts for girls in middle school and up.

Book Notes: “What Pope Francis Really Said” by Tom Hoopes: Tom Hoopes’ book “What Pope Francis Really Said” unpacks the truth behind the media’s rush to judgment. I recommend the book to all Catholics committed to defending and living out their faith.

Book Notes: 4 Books for Young Readers from Pauline Books & Media: A new book is always a welcome Christmas gift. I reviewed 4 inspiring reads for children from Pauline Books & Media.

Book Notes: “Fearless” by Sonja Corbitt: I reviewed a new book by CatholicMom.com contributor Sonja Corbitt. “Fearless” invites the reader to take up spiritual warfare against fear, stress and anxiety.

cm-praise-moments-fi

Praise Moments: “Winter Snow” by Audrey Assad: I spotlighted “Winter,” a new EP by Catholic musician Audrey Assad.

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Meatless Friday: Mexican Omelet: Try this Jersey-diner favorite for your Meatless Friday breakfast, lunch or dinner!

crs-digital-advent-retreat

Tech Talk: 10-Minute Advent Retreat from Catholic Relief Services: For those who don’t think they have time to make an Advent retreat, Catholic Relief Services packs a powerful spiritual experience in a 10-minute online retreat. Here are my impressions of “Holy Family, Refugee Family.”

At Cook and Count

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Cod with Caper-Mustard Sauce

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Mexican Omelet

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Lamb Stew with Roasted Vegetables

At Dynamic Women of Faith

Book Review: Who Does He Say You Are? A review of Colleen C. Mitchell’s spiritual work on women in the Gospel.

 

Monday recap 2016 edition

New Year’s Reading (on the Spiritual Side)

I’ve always got at least one novel going, but there’s a huge pile of nonfiction awaiting my attention.

Here’s what I’m reading as the year begins.

CM Prayer Companion cover art

The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion will be with me as I start each day. I’ve been reading it since the summer, and its wonderfully-varied reflections fit just right into a busy schedule.

There’s even a book club on Facebook!

live-today-well

I’m not sure where I heard about this one, but it ended up on my Amazon wish list and I treated myself to it last week. Live Today Well by Fr. Thomas Dailey breaks down the work of St. Francis deSales. I knew I’d chosen well when I discovered in the prologue that deSales was heavily influenced by St. Francis of Assisi.

What are you reading to feed your soul in 2017?

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! 

On the (Nativity) Scene

The figures in my Nativity made a special appearance for today’s Nativity Scene Linkup at CatholicMom.com.

It was always the custom in my husband’s family that one of the children would put the Baby Jesus into the manger, last thing on Christmas Eve. When our children were little, we took it one step further, gradually adding figures into the scene to build anticipation and correspond with liturgical celebrations. All the figures are kept behind the manger (backstage) to await their appearance.

waiting-in-the-wings

Right around now, we’d put the animals into the manger (except the donkey, who was on a journey with Mary and Joseph.)

Early on Christmas Eve, Mary and Joseph and the donkey would make their appearance. Baby Jesus would be placed in the manger, last thing on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Day, the shepherds would arrive; the kings wait until Epiphany. And the whole scene stays in place at least until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord–sometimes until Candlemas.

I always wanted a set of figures that had Baby Jesus separate from the manger, so he could be placed in it ceremoniously on Christmas Eve, but these are the figures that came with the stable we could afford 25 years ago when we bought our first Christmas decorations together. I’ve added in a table runner that my mom made for me (which doesn’t fit my table but is perfect here), and four different handmade Christmas trees, all made by special people in our lives.

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I’m joining in at CatholicMom.com for the first-ever Nativity Scene linkup! Join the fun; share a photo of your Nativity scene on your blog or on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter (use hashtag #CMnativity on social media).

On Barb’s Bookshelf: What Pope Francis Really Said

Every time Pope Francis writes an encyclical or makes an off-the-cuff remark on an airplane, the media (both Catholic and secular) jump all over it with various interpretations.

That’s a problem, states Tom Hoopes, author of What Pope Francis Really Said (Servant, 2016). Depending on your news source (or who you follow on Twitter and Facebook) you’ll get wildly different versions of the same wrong story. Add in our lack of critical-reading skills and our willingness to accept “fake news” at face value and you wind up with a great deal of confusion about the Pope’s teachings and motivations.

He is celebrated by some for saying things he never said and rejected by others for doing things they don’t really understand (ix).

That airplane photo on the cover isn’t just a convenient file photo. It’s a symbol of the world’s eagerness to take one sentence out of an entire speech and make a huge (and often hugely inaccurate) news story out of it. The problem is not that Pope Francis holds news conferences on airplanes. The problem lies in what people do with the statements he makes.

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I can’t remember so much attention being paid to things previous popes said and wrote. It’s good, because the world (including the Catholic world) is watching and learning, but it’s challenging, because it’s so easy to take things out of context. I eagerly read Hoopes’ book because I find myself having to say, “That’s not what he said” way too many times when the subject of Pope Francis comes up!

Tom Hoopes traces Pope Francis’ papacy chronologically, from a speech then-Cardinal Bergoglio made in the conclave to the World Meeting of Families in the fall of 2015. Beginning with the retelling of the Gospel story in which Jesus heals a woman on the Sabbath and is vilified by the leaders of the synagogue for doing so, Hoopes mentions that Jesus refuses to be “stage-managed by what officialdom is asking him to do and instead [turns] his attention to those who are looking to have a real encounter with him.” (2) Pope Francis operates in much the same way.

Hoopes assures readers who have painted the Pope as “too liberal” of Pope Francis’ unswerving commitment to the dignity of marriage and the right to life, while reminding those who believe he’s “too conservative” that Pope Francis decries the violence that begets more violence and often leads to war. Hoopes also mentions that Pope Francis is not saying anything new. He paraphrases the Catechism of the Catholic Church, echoes Popes John Paul II and Benedict, and frequently references Scripture.

In a fast-paced world with a second-by-second news cycle that reduces entire speeches to 140-character tidbits, Catholics need to read What Pope Francis Really Said to catch up on the truth behind what Pope Francis has said in the past so that they can be prepared to defend, and live out, what the Pope says in the future.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book from the publisher, Servant Books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.