On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Our Lady of Charity”

Maria Morera Johnson’s new memoir, Our Lady of Charity: How a Cuban devotion to Mary helped me grow in faith and love (Ave Maria Press), is a beautiful testament to the ways the patroness of Johnson’s native Cuba helped her grow in faith even after she moved with her family to the US.

This quick read introduces la virgencita — Our Lady of Charity, the patroness of Cuba. Johnson traces the history of devotion among Cubans to this depiction of Our Lady, a devotion that has continued within the Cuban-American community to this day.

Johnson found in devotion to la virgencita a connection with her ethnic and spiritual heritage. I particularly enjoyed the chapter “Ermita de la caridad” (Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, in Miami), not because of the description of the shrine itself, but because of the discussion of Pilgrims, Thanksgiving, and the ways in which immersing herself in her ethnic traditions has enriched her.

our lady of charity

I have to admit, this left me more than a little envious of the rich traditions Johnson observed with her family. As an Irish cradle Catholic from the Northeast, I didn’t experience much in the way of that kind of tradition. There was plenty of Marian devotion (my grandmothers had the well-worn rosaries to prove it, and one grandmother prominently displayed a picture of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help icon in her home) but there really was no food, music, particular devotion, or patron saint we could call our own. I don’t know if that’s an ethnic or geographical phenomenon, or if it’s because the most recent immigrant in my immediate family tree arrived in New York in the 1930s.

But — and this is the point of Johnson’s book, I think — the kind of devotional tradition she describes here nurtures faith. When you look beyond the externals of statues, paintings, rosaries, hymns, and food, there’s a deep tradition of faith that underpins all of it. As Johnson notes in the final chapter, devotion to Mary can lead us to Jesus:

Mary is the first disciple. She brought the Good News of salvation to Elizabeth and then the world! If I’m going to learn all I can about Jesus and how to be a disciple, what better teacher is there than Mary? (100)

I highly recommend Our Lady of Charity. You’ll learn about a beautiful devotion to Our Lady, but more than that, you’ll learn how she can bring you closer to her Son.

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.


#OpenBook: April 2019 Reads

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

It’s been a crazy month for me, what with two work trips plus Easter plus TheKid’s spring musical, so it’s only fiction this time and much less than usual.

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

tortured soulTortured Soul by Theresa Linden. A compelling tale of a haunting, with a twist. Jeannie Lyons is pushed out of her family’s home by her older brother and into a remote cottage that also houses a gruesome “presence.” Afraid to be at home, but with nowhere else to go, Jeannie enlists the help of the sort-of-creepy guy her brother had once pushed her to date. This edge-of-the-seat story of guilt and forgiveness emphasizes the importance of praying for the souls of the deceased — and would make a great movie. Look for a longer review later this month. Releases May 12. (ARC provided by author)

solace of waterThe Solace of Water by Elizabeth Byler Younts. I got off to a bad start with this book, but my friends’ reviews convinced me to give it a second chance and I’m glad I did. Delilah grieves the accidental loss of her son so deeply that she can’t see how it’s affecting the daughter who was supposed to be watching out for her brother at the time of his death. When the family moves north in search of a fresh start, Delilah and daughter Sparrow befriend Emma, an Amish woman isolated by a secret about her husband she feels she must keep from her community. A beautiful novel filled with deep emotion — not at all an easy read, but definitely worthwhile.

mother of pearlMother of Pearl by Kellie Coates Gilbert. I almost never pass up books with teachers as main characters, and this novel didn’t disappoint. Barrie is a supermom who works in her kids’ high school and has high-achieving teenagers. But things start to unravel when her daughter begins to lash out after a very public betrayal by her boyfriend. Guidance-counselor Barrie can fix everyone’s lives except the ones she loves, and she finds herself in way over her head when it looks like the football coach, who’d already made her career miserable, is involved in an unthinkable crime. I’ll look for more by this author.

only one lifeOnly One Life by Ashley Farley. Julia grew up in a wealthy household, but escaped a difficult family life by eloping with her college sweetheart. When a tragic accident claims her husband the night their baby is born, Julia finds she must return home to survive — and learns that her family history is much more complicated than she’d ever imagined. This novel follows dual timelines through Julia’s mother’s early marriage and Julia’s return home. Very well done.

perfectly good crimePerfectly Good Crime (A Kate Bradley Mystery) by Dete Meserve. Sequel to Good Sam, this novel follows broadcast journalist Kate as she tries to track down a criminal calling himself “Robin Hood,” who steals from the wealthiest of the wealthy in order to help the poor. Kate’s father, a politician, faces pressure to keep her off the story, but her own career motivations won’t let her give up her pursuit of the mystery — and a career-making big story that could cost her a chance at love. Not a standalone novel. (Netgalley review)

lost husbandThe Lost Husband by Catherine Center. Libby, a widow with two young children and an overbearing mother, seizes the chance to escape and start fresh when her estranged (and admittedly strange) aunt contacts her out of the blue. Libby’s new life involves raising goats and making cheese, which she knows nothing about but is willing to learn. It also involves uncovering an old family secret and learning to let go of the grief that paralyzes her in many ways. A bit predictable, but a good story.

adequate yearly progressAdequate Yearly Progress by Roxanna Elden. I don’t usually include books in this space that I wouldn’t recommend to others, but as I have many friends in the field of education who might pick up this book, I’m making an exception. This novel follows several teachers through a transformative year in an inner-city school. A new superintendent draws on his motivational-speaking background and requires teachers and admins to jump through hoops, under the guise of improving test scores, to preserve their jobs. Heavy pro-abortion bias (teachers wondering why pregnant students “don’t just get an abortion”) and slams at charter, private, and parochial schools. I found this book to be the equivalent of toxic faculty-room denizens, and the material definitely wouldn’t inspire struggling or aspiring teachers.

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!

open book logo


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz


Living in the (Prayer) Moment

This Lent I decided to give up a prayer app. I’d been using the Divine Office app to pray the Liturgy of the Hours for several years, and I saw someone post on Twitter about using only the breviary books during the season.

I made an exception for a few days while I was traveling for work, but otherwise I went the whole season with the books I’d barely opened since I found the app all those years ago.

The person who originally posted the idea (I can’t remember whose idea it was just now) said he wanted to combat laziness. I’m plenty lazy, which originally attracted me to try this practice during Lent, but I discovered something else this season that I need to combat even more.

I don’t live in the moment.

During my twice-daily Lenten ribbon-flipping with the big breviary, I found myself looking ahead to the next time I’d be using the book – and setting the ribbon in the right place before I moved on. I’m not meditating on the psalms during Lauds if I’m flipping two pages ahead to mark the ones for Vespers.

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS. All rights reserved.

But that’s what I’m doing. It’s not even like I’m saving any time or doing something I can’t do at the start of prayers the next time.

It’s a way I can indulge my tendency to always worry about what comes next. Whether it’s meals or clothing or having gas in the car, I want to be prepared for whatever’s coming – and that comes at the cost of savoring the here and now.

While this tendency is definitely an asset in my editorial work (it’s April, and I’m currently collecting magazine articles for the fall issue and assigning articles for winter), it’s not necessarily a good thing in other areas of my life.

During the second half of Lent, I actively concentrated on not moving those ribbons to the next section during (or even immediately after) prayer. It just about drove me nuts, but I managed it.

Switching from app to book didn’t turn out to be too penitential, but leaving those ribbons alone definitely was.

Will I go back to the app, starting tonight? I don’t think so. I like using the book, actually. And it’s good for me to have the twice-daily reminder that I don’t always need to be looking ahead.

Except the part where I’m looking ahead for the sake of my eternal soul.

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: My Queen, My Mother

My Queen My Mother book notes
Image created in Canva using free elements.

My Queen, My Mother by Marge Fenelon (Ave Maria Press) 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 nine holy shrines to the Blessed Mother and sharing what makes each a unique and worthwhile place to visit and pray.

As Fenelon’s spiritual itinerary crisscrosses the United States, she reveals the close-to-home spiritual treasures we may have overlooked. Along the way, readers are guided through a novena of consecration to the Blessed Mother. The book can be read over nine days, weeks, or months — but I had a tough time stopping at the end of any single day’s entry.

my queen my mother

Each shrine has a particular “personality,” emphasizing a different aspect of the Blessed Mother. For example, the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche (St. Augustine, Florida) is the center of devotion for women seeking intercession for infertility and other difficulties of motherhood. The Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation (Carey, Ohio) is visited by many seeking healing. And the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace (Santa Clara, California) offers refuge for all seeking peace in the hustle and bustle of daily life in the Silicon Valley, one of the busiest places in the country.

The author ends by emphasizing the importance of making regular visits to holy shrines, as these are in danger of disappearing due to lack of visitors and funding. To my shame, I can witness to this: I’ve lived within 15 miles of the Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel since 1992, but I only made one visit there, in 2015, before it closed permanently. But shrines, large and small, dedicated to the Blessed Mother and to various saints, dot the American landscape: chances are good that there’s one near you.

Don’t let shrines become a thing of the past. In My Queen, My Mother, Marge Fenelon makes it clear that visiting a shrine — even briefly — can be a beautiful spiritual experience.

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: Easter Basket Special

Barb Easter Basket Special

Around this time of year, you’ll find articles listing ideas for ways to fill Easter baskets with just about anything but candy. Suggestions usually include play clay, sidewalk chalk, bottles of bubbles, super-bouncy balls, and other small toys. This week I even saw an article showing a basket’s worth of extras and accessories for children with diabetes. As the parent of a teen with diabetes, I do not advise giving anything that resembles medical supplies as a holiday gift.

I have nothing against candy, but I always look for something to tuck into the basket (or gift bag, now that my kids are older) along with the Peeps, jelly beans, and peanut butter eggs. Here are five options: picture books, a chapter book, a fun family activity book, and coloring books for teens and grownups.

Picture Books

when I pray

When I Pray for You by Matthew Paul Turner and illustrated by Kimberley Barnes (WaterBrook) is a picture book with rhyming text that would make a beautiful bedtime story. The book is not specifically Catholic, but it’s all about prayer — specifically, the many, many ways parents pray for their children. The illustration style is really cute and engaging, and the message of the book is wonderful.

Father Ben Gets Ready for Mass

Father Ben gets ready for Mass by Katie Warner and illustrated by Meg Whalen (TAN Books) offers an interactive peek at what priests do before Mass. Children are familiar with their own family’s pre-Mass routines, so this is a valuable perspective on what priests do. As in any picture book, the details matter, and that really shows in this story: on the cover, Father Ben is walking to church with a rosary in his hand. Because this book calls for the reader to make the sound of a church bell and sing “Alleluia,” this might not be the book to bring to church with you — but it’s a great Sunday-morning read if you have time before the flurry of getting dressed and having breakfast.

For Independent Readers

anna goes to a party

Anna Goes to a Party and Learns About the Mass by Gabriele Krämer-Kost and illustrated by Tanja Husmann (Pauline Books & Media) is a chapter book especially appropriate for children preparing for their First Communion. Eight-year-old Anna’s family doesn’t go to church much except on holidays, and she’s nervous about receiving the Sacrament because she doesn’t know what to do. A family celebration provides the occasion for Anna to consult her godmother about Mass and what happens there. The same family party becomes a comparison tool for Anna’s godmother as she explains the various elements of Mass and how they fit into the celebration. Cute, retro-style illustrations remind me of the “Ramona” books I enjoyed as a child. The last section of the book takes the reader step by step through the whole Mass.

Fun for the Whole Family

catholic funny fill ins

Remember “Mad Libs”? Karen and Tommy Tighe’s riff on the road-trip game, Catholic Funny Fill-Ins (Pauline Books & Media), takes an old favorite one better by mixing in a fun fact at the end of each page — and making it part of the game! Woven into the stories are mentions of prayer, saints, sacraments, feast days, and ways to help others. It’s fun and creative, and helps children review the parts of speech. This book and a pencil are all you need to pass the time during travel, in a waiting room, or even in a restaurant while you wait for your meal.

For Tweens, Teens, and Grownups

jesus speaks to you

Coloring-book fans of all ages will enjoy Veruschka Guerra’s Easter-themed Jesus Speaks to You: A Coloring Book for Prayer and Meditation. Scripture quotes accompany each coloring spread, and a section at the back of the book is designed on one side only so the pages can be cut out and framed or given as gifts. The book is made with thick, quality paper so colors won’t bleed through. Guerra’s intricate art is beautiful to look at, even before you color the pages!

staedtler triplus 36

And if you’re giving a coloring book, you can’t miss by adding some coloring pens to go with it! My favorites are the Staedtler Triplus Fineliners. You’ll find them in packs of 6 on up to 50. These pens last a long time, don’t smear, and won’t roll off the table. (You can use them for your bullet journal too!)

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.

#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:


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.



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.


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

Why are Catholic Women “Mean Girls” on Social Media?

I won’t name names because it doesn’t matter.

On any other day, it could have been someone else.

Or you.

Or me.

But that particular day, it was a high-profile Catholic with a follower count to match and a big social-media footprint who got the whole thing started.

User 1 mocked someone — a stranger — who was in no position to defend herself, and several hundred more users piled on with likes and comments, maybe hoping for a coveted sign of approval from User 1, such as a like, a retweet, or maybe (gasp!) even a personal response.

That’s how these pile-ons get started, after all. One person tosses out a tweet and we all jump into the fray.

Why do we do this? Why are we taking a page from “Mean Girls” in our use of social media?

Is this how Catholic women support each other?

We jump in. We pile on. Maybe we even make that statement that starts it all. We do this out of our own desire to be heard. To be seen. To be acknowledged.

Can’t we find ways to be seen by modeling kindness?

Can’t our voices be heard more clearly when we offer a positive word? A compliment? A cheerful greeting? A joke that isn’t at someone else’s expense?

I’m not saying there’s never any room to be snarky, but I am saying you need to be careful about your target. That target is a person too.

Probably at first, kindness won’t get you too far in growing your follower count. But if you get (or keep) followers because you tweet mean stuff, you need to re-evaluate your social-media strategy.

Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more. (Luke 12:48)

Use the power of your platform for good. Please.

Otherwise, you scandalize the rest of us — at best — and hurt others.

And if you’re going to use the power of your platform to exclude those who don’t fit in with the rest of your tribe, then that’s a tribe I wouldn’t want to join.

Photo credit: By Molly Belle (2016), Unsplash.com, CC0/PD

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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:


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.


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)


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.


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.