My Summer Reading List at CatholicDigest.com

When I was in middle school, I used to read Catholic Digest when I visited my grandmother. Sometimes I’d poach her copies … sometimes I tried to do that before she finished reading it!

It’s my privilege now to work with the fine folks at Catholic Digest, since Today’s Catholic Teacher, where I’m the managing editor, shares the same publisher, editorial coordinator, and art director.

And it’s my privilege today to share my first-ever article for the Catholic Digest website — on one of my favorite topics: reading.

Check it out: Catholic Beach Reads: 16 Page-Turners for your Summer Vacation

If you’re interested in purchasing any of these books, I’ve listed them all on this Amazon page, so they’ll be easy to find. Note that this is an affiliate page, so your purchase benefits me as a writer.


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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#OpenBook: May 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

night the lights went outThe Night the Lights Went Out by Karen White. Not at ALL what I expected — but what a story! Merilee moves into a guesthouse with her kids after divorcing her unfaithful husband. She strikes up an unlikely friendship with her prickly landlady, who’s nursing a lot of old hurts that haunt her more and more as she ages. Merilee enrolls the kids in a local private school and must deal with the Mean Moms crowd. Heather (the chief Mean Mom) suddenly takes Merilee under her wing, making her over in her own image — but something is not quite right. Local scandals turn into danger before long. A terrific read.

emilys songEmily’s Song by Christine Marciniak. An accidental trip through time after her best friend’s wedding lands the unhappily single Emily in the home of an unhappily engaged young man who’s about to head off to the Civil War. Rich historical detail, especially involving fashion, give extra credibility to the tale. I enjoyed the plot twists and well-thought-out connections between past and present. Some proofreading errors in this novel, but overall, the characters, humor, and suspense were spot on.

write me homeWrite Me Home by Crystal Walton (Home in You #1). An enjoyable (and clean) romance, this novel told the story of Ethan, whose heart was broken as a teenager when his sister tied in a tragic accident, and Cassidy, who inherited a summer camp in the Catskills and wants to renovate and sell it. Cassidy can’t get beyond old memories at the camp, and Ethan is similarly stuck in the past, constantly reliving (and blaming himself for) his sister’s death. Restoring the summer camp seems like it will restore both of their spirits — but someone is sabotaging their efforts.

begin againBegin Again by Crystal Walton (Home in You #2). Best of the “Home in You” series (which you don’t have to read in order, BTW), this novel has former model Ti arriving in the Outer Banks on vacation and running into Drew, a single dad with a failing business. Clever banter ensues as Ti charms her way into helping Drew save his shop in the tourist town, but Ti also needs to deal with the ghosts of her own past, which nearly keep her and Drew apart.

space betweenThe Space Between by Dete Meserve. Significant clues are often hidden “in plain sight.” Astronomer Sarah returns from a business trip where she presented an important scientific discovery, only to discover her teenager home alone and her ambitious restauranteur husband missing. What follows is some evidence tampering on her part — intentional and unintentional — as she seeks to find her husband and find out whether he actually is guilty of the murder he’s been accused of committing. The suspense builds, with intruders, secret codes, and plenty of evidence that Sarah herself is not blameless when it comes to problems in her marriage to Ben. Who can be trusted? A well-crafted thriller; I didn’t want to stop reading! Coming July 24 – preorder now! (Netgalley review)

family next doorThe Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth. Single Isabelle doesn’t seem to fit into the Melbourne neighborhood of young families, and everyone’s suspicious. She seems to be particularly fascinated with Essie, a young mother with a terrible secret. But Essie is not the only one with a secret: two other moms on the street wish they could run away from family crises they cannot divulge. A lot of head-hopping, not much character development. (Netgalley review)

last chance matineeThe Last Chance Matinee by Mariah Stewart. I received the second book in this series via Netgalley, so I read them out of order. It definitely would have helped to have read this one first, though I think there were a few continuity errors. Two sisters travel to northeastern Pennsylvania to receive their inheritance after their estranged father’s death — and discover that they have another sister they never knew of. In order to inherit their father’s fortune, the three must live together and renovate a tumbledown theater in town.

surviving stillnessSurviving the Stillness by Jessica White. In this historical novel set in the 1920s, a brother and sister on the run are stranded in a small Montana town and taken in by a woman who works in a Catholic orphanage. 15-year-old Abigail has managed to hold it together despite the trauma she’s faced in the past year or so at the hands of the people who were supposed to protect her — until she reaches the safety of the orphanage. She’s not the only one suffering, however; the local doctor still grieves the loss of his wife and isn’t sure how to deal with the upcoming separation from his son when the young man goes off to college. This is a story of compassionate healing on many levels, and the human ability to heal others even while the healer is suffering.

YA/Children’s

black bottle manBlack Bottle Man by Craig Russell. Can a novel be both chilling and enjoyable at once? This tale of a young boy caught up in a Faustian bargain manages that. 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. (Review copy provided by author)

Nonfiction

OBDH_r_FINALCoverCatholicOne Beautiful Dream by Jennifer Fulwiler. There’s vulnerability in every chapter this book, and that’s what makes it resonate with readers, no matter how much you have (or don’t have) in common with Jennifer. While she brings plenty of the dry wit she’s (deservedly) famous for, she also brings the wisdom — the lessons she has had to learn as a woman, as a mother, and as a professional. Read my full review. (Review copy provided by publisher)

Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links.

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: One Beautiful Dream

I binge-read my way through this book, and I’m not one bit guilty.

In One Beautiful Dream, Jennifer Fulwiler puts her insecurities right there on the page for all to see. That’s not news to anyone who’s followed her blog, but it might be news if the only way you know her work is through her first book, Something Other than God, or through her radio show on SiriusXM’s Catholic Channel.

OBDH_r_FINALCoverCatholic

There’s vulnerability in every chapter this book, and that’s what makes it resonate with readers, no matter how much you have (or don’t have) in common with Jennifer. While she brings plenty of the dry wit she’s (deservedly) famous for, she also brings the wisdom — the lessons she has had to learn as a woman, as a mother, and as a professional.

There are lessons about trusting in God — and acting like you trust in God after you say you trust in God. There are lessons about judging others’ motives based on what you see on the outside. There are lessons about never letting fear control your decision-making.

If you read Something Other than God or listen to Jennifer’s radio show, while you’ll hear a lot about her “crazy” life with 6 homeschooled kids in a small house, you might still get the impression that confidence rules the day for her. And if you’re anything like me, you might get scared off a little, because confident people can have that effect on non-confident people.

One Beautiful Dream, though, is not about confidence. At all. It’s about realizing that you can’t do all the things, and that it’s OK to accept help, and that there are people who are good at the things you either can’t stand to do or just plain aren’t good at doing. When it comes right down to it, One Beautiful Dream is about humility. When we think we can have it all, that’s pride talking.

So here’s my recommendation: plan an easy dinner that involves 5 minutes of work time and 45 minutes to an hour of idle cook time. Pour yourself a cup of your favorite beverage, and find a comfortable chair. Then let yourself dive in, and don’t feel guilty for even a minute.

Let Jennifer Fulwiler encourage you as you step forward in vulnerability.
Barb's Book shelf blog title


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: April 2018 Reads

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. (I’m a bit late, obviously!)

I had two business trips in April for a total of 7 nights away from home, as well as some other things happening, so my reading time was definitely cut short last month.

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

Fiction

no one ever askedNo One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert. A picture-perfect world shows its inner ugly side when a proposal to bus students from a nearby bankrupt school district means that their school will now be racially integrated. This story is told from 3 points of view: Anaya, who grew up in the now-bankrupt district but who’s teaching in the affluent zip code; Camille, a PTA chair who made her anti-integration views known and whose daughter is now in Anaya’s class; and Jen, who recently adopted a child from Africa and who’s finding the road to new motherhood more than a little bit rocky — and not at all what she expected. Sometimes it was tough to keep the various points of view straight — it got distracting as the book went on for almost 400 pages. Overall, though, it was a good story. Advance copy received from publisher.

island of miraclesIsland of Miracles by Amy Schisler. When Katherine discovers her husband has been living a double life, she abandons her home and job to take a sabbatical of sorts on Chincoteague Island. She’s immediately taken in by the community and finds a job on her first day there. Now calling herself “Kate,” she makes friends with her neighbor and is intrigued by the neighbor’s brother, who’s in the Coast Guard and is clearly interested in her. Then she learns that she’s pregnant — by the man she never wants to see again. A Catholic novel with an excellent priest character. Some far-fetched elements (see above re: job), some editing/proofreading errors. Don’t judge it by its cover (which I think suggests a beachy feel-good romance) — it’s an enjoyable story with plenty of suspense.

sugarhouse bluesThe Sugarhouse Blues by Mariah Stewart. Three sisters must renovate a decrepit theatre in order to inherit their father’s fortune. They discover that there’s not enough money to complete the building’s repairs, and one of the sisters decides to take on some of the complicated art work herself, while another dedicates herself to finding ways to fund the project. And, of course, there’s romance — not only for each of the sisters, but for the aunt they’ve moved in with as well. Great beach read! This is book 2 in a series, and you’re definitely coming in late to the story if you start with this one (as I did). I purchased the first book to find out what I’d missed because I did like the characters, but haven’t yet had the chance to read it. (Netgalley)

wish me homeWish Me Home by Kay Bratt. A young woman running from her past (and her twin sister’s) finds an injured stray dog by the side of the road. He becomes her companion as she walks from Georgia to Key West, encountering some kind souls — and some terrible ones — along the way. Her journey leads her to an old estate where she’s taken in by the family who lives there, to help them run an animal shelter. She also finds romance. The book touches on mental illness, suicide, and life in the foster-care system.

shadows of hopeShadows of Hope by Georgiana Daniels. Marissa worries that her window of opportunity for having children is closing; after a miscarriage she has been unable to conceive. Working in a crisis pregnancy center takes its toll on her emotionally, even though she loves her work and believes in its importance. She thinks her husband is having an affair, but never suspects that it’s one of her clients — and her client-turned-employee has no idea, either. An interesting examination of trust, commitment, and the question of who’s at fault for problems in a marriage. (Netgalley)

every note playedEvery Note Played by Lisa Genova. This novel centers on a heartbreaking situation: Richard, a concert pianist, develops ALS. He loses his career, his independence, and his dignity. His acrimonious divorce from Karina, also a pianist who’d put her career on hold when his took off, becomes a factor when his illness robs him of the ability to live alone. Both Richard and Karina are forced to deal with mistakes of the past. ALS is described in brutal, excruciating detail. A good story, but given the topic, not a fun book to read, and I had a hard time liking either of the two main characters. I felt sorry for them, but didn’t really care about them. Loved the cover. (Netgalley)

YA/Children’s

never be aloneNever Be Alone by Paige Dearth. This was a harrowing story and is definitely only for older teens. Theook contained some proofreading errors. Chapters were very short; the flow of the story seemed choppy. This didn’t seem like too much of a story, but more a “slice of life” that wore at the reader a bit. Joon is out in the care of a sadistic foster mother after her parent’s death. After 4 awful years she runs away and tries to survive on the streets of Philadelphia. (Netgalley review)

Nonfiction

I’ve got a bunch of nonfiction reads in progress. Stay tuned.

Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Thank you for purchasing books through my links!

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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On Barb’s Bookshelf: Anyone But Him

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Theresa Linden’s newest Catholic novel, Anyone But Him, centers on the theme of forgiveness and making a new start. Some of my favorite characters from Roland West, Loner and the other novels in the West Brothers series are all grown up in this novel directed at the new-adult audience.

In a surprising twist right off the bat, Caitlyn wakes up one morning to discover she’s married to her friend Roland’s bad-boy older brother, Jarret — and she’s horrified. She also can’t remember anything that’s happened in the past two or three years. How could she be married to the man who’d tormented her good friend for so long?Her coworkers at the private detective agency aren’t much help, and Jarret’s trying to solve the problem by keeping her locked in the house and not letting her call her family. There’s plenty of suspense to keep this story moving along, between strange encounters with both Caitlyn and Jarret’s coworkers and Caitlyn’s various escape attempts. Jarret seems like he’s changed since high school, and Caitlyn’s biggest mission is to find out if that’s for real.

anyone but hi

I like that Theresa Linden has continued the West Brothers series into the characters’ young adulthood, and that she’s framed this novel for the new-adult audience, which has protagonists and readers in the 18-30 age bracket. The first four West Brothers novels are for teens and young adults, but this one, I think, is better aimed at new-adult readers.

The West Brothers Series (in order)

Roland West, Loner (read my full review)
Life-Changing Love (read my full review)
Battle for His Soul
Standing Strong
Anyone But Him

About Theresa Linden

square theresaTheresa Linden is the author of award-winning Catholic teen fiction. Raised in a military family, she developed a strong patriotism and a sense of adventure. Her Catholic faith inspires the belief that there is no greater adventure than the reality we can’t see, the spiritual side of life. She has six published novels, and two short stories in Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body (Full Quiver Publishing). She holds a Catechetical Diploma from Catholic Distance University and is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild and the International Writers Society. A wife, homeschooling mom, and Secular Franciscan, she resides in northeast Ohio with her husband and three teenage boys. To learn more, visit TheresaLinden.com, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Barb's Book shelf blog title


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: Once Upon a Princess

Will a twelve-year-old princess have enough social-media savvy to save her kingdom? That’s the question behind Christine Marciniak’s middle-grade novel, Once Upon a Princess.

Young fans of The Princess Diaries will enjoy the story of twelve-year-old princess Fritzi of Colsteinburg, whose first chance to attend a ball is capped off with danger when a coup is attempted against her father. Her mother, sister, and a bodyguard take her to the Boston, MA, area, where Fritzi tries to figure out what one seventh-grader can do to set things right in her country and reunite her family — all while navigating the usual middle-school pitfalls. She’s smart and feisty, but not prudent: qualities which will both help her and hurt her along the way.

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Fritzi’s social-media use is key to the outcome of this story. When she decides to make optimistic videos in an attempt to bring her country together after the coup, she learns that the geo-tagging feature (one she didn’t know about) would put her family in danger. Fritzi’s concern not only for her own interests and those of her family, but the interests of her whole country, is an admirable quality in someone so young, and she shows courage, grit, and a firm ability to lead without bullying.

Christine Marciniak, who lives in New Jersey and is the mom of two college students, adds subtle Catholic touches to her novels. In all of her books, you’ll find mention of her characters attending Mass, and Princess Fritzi’s boarding school in France is named Academie Ste. Marie. It’s nice to see fictional characters practicing their faith as a matter of course, and the author is not too heavy-handed about it.

Once Upon a Princess is appropriate (and recommended) for readers age nine and up.

Learn more about author Christine Marciniak: visit ChristineMarciniak.com or follow her on Facebook or Twitter. And check out the book trailer!

Barb's Book shelf blog title


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: March 2018

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. I read several children’s/YA books, because friends had recommended them. Even though I’m no longer a volunteer in the school library or a teacher, I still enjoy books for middle-grade and YA readers.

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

Fiction

summer of new beginningsThe Summer of New Beginnings by Bette Lee Crosby. In this story that starts out with a Frank Capra-esque setup, Meghan gives up her ambition to be a journalist when her father dies just before she leaves for college. Instead, she runs the family’s coupon-clipper magazine while her flighty sister takes off for Philadelphia with her boyfriend. When Tracy returns a few years later, a single mom with a toddler in tow, the family must face the fact that the little boy has special needs. In the middle of all this, a puppy shows up and captures Meghan’s heart. As she always does, Bette Lee Crosby has created characters you’d love to get to know in person, in settings real enough to be the small town next door.

anyone but hiAnyone but Him by Theresa Linden. Some of my favorite characters from Roland West, Loner, are all grown up in this novel directed at the new-adult audience. In a surprising twist right off the bat, Caitlyn wakes up one morning to discover she’s married to her friend Roland’s bad-boy older brother, Jarret — and she’s horrified. She also can’t remember anything that’s happened in the past two or three years. Her coworkers at the private detective agency aren’t much help, and Jarret’s trying to solve the problem by keeping her locked in the house and not letting her call her family. There’s plenty of suspense to keep this story moving along, between strange encounters with both Caitlyn and Jarret’s coworkers and Caitlyn’s various escape attempts. Jarret seems like he’s changed since high school, and Caitlyn’s biggest mission is to find out if that’s for real. (ARC received from author)

life such as heaven intendedA Life Such as Heaven Intended by Amanda Lauer. When Brigid discovers a Confederate soldier unconscious on her family’s property, she takes great risks to hide and protect him until he can be brought to safety. These risks include opening her heart to the soldier, even though she intends to enter a convent soon. Brigid’s inadvertent involvement in the Underground Railroad sets the stage for the two to meet again. This Civil War romance novel is packed with secrets, intrigue, and a dash of faith. It’s the second in a series, but works as a standalone. (ARC received from publisher)

table for oneTable for One by Leah Atwood. This is a novella, and I’d gladly have read a full-length story about these characters. Lauren, who writes a blog dedicated to enjoying the single life, decides to invite herself to dine with a young man eating alone in a fancy restaurant. Trevor had taken his longtime girlfriend there, intending to propose, but instead he broke up with her. This clean romance features believable characters and dialogue that feels natural, though it’s a bit heavy-handed with its Christian angle. I’ll look for more from this author.

YA/Children’s

Princess-CoverOnce Upon a Princess by Christine Marciniak. Young fans of “The Princess Diaries” will enjoy the story of twelve-year-old princess Fritzi of Colsteinburg, whose first chance to attend a ball is capped off with danger when a coup is attempted against her father. Her mother, sister, and a bodyguard take her to the Boston, MA, area, where Fritzi tries to figure out what one middle-schooler can do to set things right in her country and reunite her family — all while navigating the usual middle-school pitfalls. She’s smart and feisty, but not prudent: qualities which will both help her and hurt her along the way. Full review coming Friday! (ARC received from author)

jolly reginaThe Jolly Regina (The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters #1) by Kara LaReau. This is a beautifully written book for middle-grade kids, packed with challenging vocabulary and an interesting, if strange, premise. Two little girls (of indeterminate age, but I’d guess about 11) have been home alone for years, supporting themselves by darning socks, and receiving grocery deliveries at the curb in front of their house. They do everything they can to keep things as stable and uneventful as possible and to stay under the radar — until one day a pirate kidnaps them and they find out they’ll have the chance to reunite with their adventuresome parents.

leap of faithLeap of Faith by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Abby learned the hard way that her parents not only don’t pay attention to her, they don’t hear her when she’s in distress. Her acting out gets her expelled from public school, so her parents enroll her in Catholic school — and then are distressed to find that she’s interested in the Faith. Abby decides to capitalize on this: to get her parents’ attention, she enrolls in RCIA, but doesn’t count on it making an impact on her. This book was a surprisingly sensitive look at an adolescent’s faith life. It’s from a mainstream publisher, but it’s not at all condescending to people of faith.

smart cookieSmart Cookie by Elly Swartz. A few years after her mom died, Frankie wants her dad to be happy — and she wants a mom for herself. In between her schoolwork and helping her dad and grandmother, who run a B&B, Frankie sets up a dating-service for her dad and sets out to screen potential mom candidates. Her former BFF is hiding something, there might be a ghost in the backyard shed, and her dad’s inn could be in danger. Frankie’s other friend Elliott is a great supporting character. This book is cleverly written and a lot of fun to read.

Nonfiction

good enoughGood Enough is Good Enough by Colleen Duggan. Subtitled “Confessions of an imperfect Catholic mom,” this book is surprising in many ways. You might think you’re getting humorous Tales from the Cry Room — and you wouldn’t be wrong — but there’s much more to this book than that. Colleen is open about the messiness of her life, from issues in her own childhood to the discovery that one of her children has a genetic disorder, because she wants to encourage other moms to move toward healing. This book is motivating, honest, heartbreaking, funny, and challenging. (ARC received from publisher)

futon j sheenFulton J. Sheen by Alexis Walkenstein. This is my first introduction to the work of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, and I found the selections highlighted in this book fascinating. My generation needs priests like Sheen, whose zeal for the Faith is evident on every page. Walkenstein chose excerpts from several of Sheen’s books, and has added journal prompts and a bibliography for readers who wish to dive more deeply into Sheen’s large body of written work. I definitely want to read more of his work. (ARC received from publisher)

our fatherOur Father: Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer by Pope Francis. Whether we reverently recite the words or sing them, they are the words that Jesus gave us. Spend a few minutes each day praying with this new book by Pope Francis. Read a paragraph or a chapter. Meditate on the wisdom you find there. And close by praying those words that Jesus gave us. A few hiccups in the translation, but overall a beautiful book. Read my full review. (ARC received from publisher)

Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Thank you for purchasing books via these links.

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

Not so holy: How did your Lent go?

March has been a busy month — all the more so because I’ve been getting ready for what I’m calling “Crazy April.”

Monday morning, bright and early, I’m headed to the airport so I can travel to Cincinnati and represent Today’s Catholic Teacher magazine at the NCEA convention and help host a banquet for the Innovations in Catholic Education Awards.

(Related: I had to buy a fancy dress. And shoes that, I hope, will allow me to stand for the better part of the day on a trade-show floor and walk a few blocks each way to the hotel. Tendonitis in both feet and an old stress fracture in one isn’t a good combination when this is on the agenda.)

After four days of travel this week, I’ll have about 10 days at home before I drive to Worcester, MA, for editorial meetings for the magazine.

So I’ve been prescheduling as much content as I can at CatholicMom.com and CatholicTeacher.com, working on final edits for the coming summer issue, and, well, generally neglecting things around the house. On Wednesday it occurred to me that while I’d finished most of the work projects, I had no Easter-basket treats for my family and no idea what I’d be serving for Easter Sunday dinner.

Meanwhile, in the course of my routine correspondence with the authors I work with in both of my jobs, I’ve been getting some variation on the theme of, “How was your Lent?” I’ve even been editing articles along that line.

When you work in Catholic media, you can’t help being bombarded, this time of year, with recaps of people’s holy Lents. And, well, my Lent hasn’t been so very holy. It’s not that I’m not keeping my eyes on my own paper, so much that other people’s papers are being shoved right under my eyes in the course of my job.

I bought this beautiful Lenten spiritual workbook, Above All, from Take Up and Read. I haven’t touched it in weeks. If I’ve completed 1/5 of it, that’s a lot. I just haven’t made the time.

I did manage to give up espresso beverages … whoop-de-do.

But honestly, it’s all been about time management. I love the work I get to do: I have terrific and supportive colleagues at both my jobs, and the writers I work with are wonderful. I call many of them my friends, and I look forward to meeting several more of them this summer at the Catholic Writers Guild Conference. My problem is, in an occupation where there is always new content to prepare, I can get swamped under that and let it spill over into the time I should be allotting for other things.

So I’m packing my copy of When the Timer Dings, and a blank bullet journal, into my tote bag for the airplane trip. I find that when I’m in a different place, I can get out of my head and think more creatively. I have some daydreaming to do about my goals and wishes for next year’s magazines, but I need to do some daydreaming about the way I manage my time (or, more accurately, don’t manage it.)

Lent this year just hasn’t been so holy. Beating myself up about it isn’t going to help. So while the business trips I’m taking this April are taking me way out of my comfort zone (and my comfortable sweatpants) I’m beginning to feel grateful for the opportunity to reboot the way I schedule my work.

After all, Lent isn’t the only season of the liturgical year in which you can grow in holiness. Maybe with improved time management, I’ll be better able to nurture my spiritual life during the Easter season and beyond.

How did your Lent go? If it wasn’t so holy, what can you do about that during the Easter season?

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Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Product links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Thank you for using these links for our Amazon purchases.

Open Book: January/February 2018

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. Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links.

I didn’t get this done for January, and it’s been so long since I’ve read some of the books on my list that I can’t say I remember anything about them, so those were not listed here.

Fiction

fathers sons holy ghosts of baseballFathers, Sons, and the Holy Ghosts of Baseball by Tommy Murray. A small rural Iowa Catholic high school in 1974 fields a baseball team that always makes it to the state finals but never wins the championship. The three elderly men (including the parish priest) who coach the team are determined that this will be the year they do win, and the coaches, all in frail health, are willing to risk everything to make that happen before they retire. The author did a wonderful job creating a sense of both character and place. My one issue with the novel was a throwaway scene (that neither advanced plot nor character) in which the priest “anoints” a woman to play priest in a nursing home. It didn’t work with the setting of the book, and it had nothing to do with the leadership the priest provided to the baseball team. Overall, this was a story that was easy to lose myself in. (Review copy)

wind that shakes the cornThe Wind that Shakes the Corn by Kaye Park Hinckley. An epic novel that follows an eighteenth-century young Irishwoman from her rural home to slavery in St. Kitts and eventually to the American colonies, where she lived through events leading up to the Revolutionary War as well as its aftermath. The theme of revenge runs strong through this novel, as Nell’s hatred of the British whose actions devastated both her family and her homeland runs strong. She and generations of descendants must live with the bitterness of their hunger for revenge, which never tastes as sweet as imagined.
Author Kaye Park Hinckley makes the characters and locations come alive for the reader, portraying a side of history, especially the slave trade, that is rarely depicted in novels and history books. Highly recommended. (Review copy)

paper heartsPaper Hearts by Courtney Walsh. This was a lovely novel — I didn’t want it to end. Abigail Pressman owns a bookshop/cafe in a small Colorado town, and she’s pretty much given up on love. When she decorates her store with some love notes written on paper hearts by an anonymous couple, she has no idea that these have a connection to her new landlord, a doctor whose business partner wants the bookstore closed so the medical practice can expand.

seven days of usSeven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak. A 368-page book that takes place over the course of a week? The action moves slowly for a reason: 6 people are stuck together in a shabby-chic (more shabby than chic) country home, waiting out the quarantine period for one family member who’s been providing medical assistance in Africa during a communicable-disease outbreak. Surprisingly, there was a good deal of suspense, thanks not only to the “will she or won’t she” catch the dread disease, since she and another doctor had a romantic relationship, violating all kinds of epidemic no-contact rules, but also to the arrival of a young man who claims to be a relative, a cancer diagnosis, and a brand-new engagement.

forever my girlForever My Girl by Courtney McLaughlin. When have you ever heard of Hollywood cleaning up a book when they make it into a movie? That’s what happened with Forever My Girl. I saw the movie and since I liked the story, figured I’d love the book even more. But there were so many differences between the book and the movie, it was hardly the same story at all. Hollywood made Liam Page’s father the town minister so that the theme of reconciliation would flow through the movie, a theme I describe in my movie review. The book’s storyline is much more romance, less trust and reconciliation. The book loses a star right off the bat because of the grammatical errors in it. There’s also more usage of the f-bomb than I expected, given the squeaky-clean nature of the movie, and a graphic sex scene that goes on for multiple pages (again, the movie only hints at this). I chose this book after seeing the movie because I wanted more about these characters and their story. I got more — but it wasn’t necessarily more about the same people, and in many instances, it was more than I wanted.

finding fionaFinding Fiona by Donna Fasano. An overextended housewife in the affluent suburbs of Wilmington, DE, has to explain to the police why she didn’t realize her husband had been missing for several days. When he doesn’t return, and there’s no explanation, Fiona has to pick up the pieces and find a way to earn a living. Her old friend Di, having just lost a job, comes to stay with Fiona and help her through the crisis. With themes of reconciliation on many levels, this was an enjoyable book.

recipe boxThe Recipe Box by Viola Shipman (Netgalley review). Samantha had grand ambitions of going to New York City and becoming a great chef, but her mentor’s terrible behavior has her quitting, then returning to her family’s northern-Michigan orchard where she grew up. It was a good story, but there was a bit too much “strong woman” emphasis, neglecting the fact that the men in the family worked as hard and sacrificed as much to make the orchard a success.

 

YA/Children’s

i am not your perfect mexican daughterI Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sánchez. This is categorized YA, but I wouldn’t give it to a younger teen. Not what I expected, this book was angry, dark, and depressing. It lacked a good sense of place — you never got a feel for the Chicago neighborhood where Julia lives, though when she visits her relatives in Mexico, that is better described. (Maybe this was deliberate?) Not what I expected, this book was angry, dark, and depressing. It lacked a good sense of place — you never got a feel for the Chicago neighborhood where Julia lives, though when she visits her relatives in Mexico, that is better described. (Maybe this was deliberate?) Julia always feels like the second-rate second daughter, and when her “perfect” older sister is killed in a traffic accident, her depression and guilt, combined with her parents’ grief, threatens to undo her. Julia’s only ambitions are to get out of her neighborhood and become a writer, and the only other thing that interests her is uncovering the secrets she’s sure her sister left behind. Finding out the truth of those secrets was the only reason I finished this book. Strong language (bilingual), some violence, and sexual situations.

Nonfiction

light entrusted to youThe Light Entrusted to You: Keeping the Flame of Faith Alive by  John R. Wood. A parent-to-parent guide to help you share Catholicism with your family by living Catholicism with your family. The author is not a theologian or professor: he’s an eye doctor and a parent who loves his children and his faith. The chapters are cleverly titled to form the acronym “SAINTS,” and the topics covered range from saints to Scripture to sports (yes, sports). A more-detailed table of contents or an index would be helpful in this book, but the information in the book is solid and Wood’s delivery is engaging. Read my full review.

lenten healingLenten Healing: 40 Days to Set You Free From Sin by Ken Kniepmann is a do-it-yourself retreat that focuses not only on sin, but on the virtues that will have room in our lives if we free ourselves from sin. Filled with relatable, concrete examples of the faces of sin in our lives, Scripture passages and questions for meditation (keep a journal handy!),  and short prayers, this book is a gateway for readers to confront — and weed out — those sinful actions and tendencies that keep us far from God. Read my full review.

humility rulesHumility Rules: Saint Benedict’s 12-Step Guide to Genuine Self-Esteem by J. Augustine Wetta, OSB. The author does not talk down to teens, but rather challenges them to engage with their faith as they grow in virtue. Self-esteem might seem like a dated buzzword, but Wetta demonstrates how it’s important, even virtuous, for teens to develop a healthy self-esteem. Read my full review.

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, OFS
Unless otherwise noted, I purchased these books myself or read library copies. Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Opinions expressed here are mine.

New from Pauline Kids: Books for Easter Baskets

Do you like to make the Easter basket about more than just the chocolate? Four new books from Pauline Kids will make excellent additions to your child’s Easter basket this year.

Jesus our saviorJesus Our Savior: the story of God’s Son for children by Patricia Szczebak is an adaptation of Bible stories about Jesus. Written for independent readers in second grade and up, it would make a great read-aloud for children as young as age four. Most chapters are about three pages long, so this book is perfectly formatted for bedtime reading with your children, a chapter or two each night. This Bible storybook is faithful to Gospel accounts, adding only a bit of historical detail (such as a simple explanation of leprosy) to help young readers understand the stories better.

our blessed motherOur Blessed Mother: the story of Mary for children by Marilyn Evangelina Monge, FSP, is from the same series as Jesus Our Savior. This book is divided into two parts: The Life of Mary and Mary Leads Us to Jesus, which covers the Marian apparitions at Carmel, Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima, the Miraculous Medal, and a quick how-to on praying the Rosary. The book begins with a good explanation about how we honor Mary but do not worship her, and also that we get some of the stories of Mary from Tradition.

life of jesus graphic novelThe Life of Jesus is a graphic novel by Ben Alex, illustrated by José Pérez Montero. This book brings the Gospel stories to life in a different way; more and more kids ages 10 and up are very into the graphic-novel format, so this will appeal to them without boiling down the message. The narrative is very action-oriented but does not leave out the numerous occasions in the Bible where Jesus goes off by himself to pray. At the bottom of each page, you’ll find the Scripture reference for the story depicted there. I’d recommend this for tweens, teens, and Confirmandi.

divine mercy in my pocketDivine Mercy in my pocket by Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP,  is a small booklet, about 3 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches, that helps kids learn to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. In addition to the prayer instruction, the first half of the booklet contains a short biography of Saint Faustina, as well as some information on the meaning of the prayers and how and why we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. The rest of the booklet is titled “How Can I Share Mercy with Others?” and discusses the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy in language children can understand. Paired with a Rosary, it would make an excellent First Communion gift idea.

Tuck one (or more) of these books into your child’s Easter basket this year — right next to the chocolate bunny.

Pauline Books for Easter Baskets


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.