Open Book: September 2018 Reads

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:

Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YA/Children’s

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

Nonfiction

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

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

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

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

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

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Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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#OpenBook: Summer 2018

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

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

Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YA/Children’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: June 2018 Reads

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:

Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nonfiction

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#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!

open book new logo


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#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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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!

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Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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.

#OpenBook: December 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

carolineCaroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Muller. Basically, this is “Little House on the Prairie” told from Caroline’s point of view rather than young Laura’s. Muller filled in some gaps in the story (I’m guessing by using primary sources, as this novel was authorized by the Wilder Estate) and did well with the attention to historical detail (right down to the question most readers of historical fiction always have but never ask: how did they go to the bathroom?). It got a little tedious and repetitive sometimes, though, especially in the parts where Caroline and Charles’ relationship comes up. If you’re not a “Little House” fan, don’t bother.

enchanted eveOne Enchanted Eve by Melissa Tagg. Rylan, a culinary school instructor still smarting from the loss of her bakery and her boyfriend two years ago, can’t stand student Colin, who has the knack for making a mess but also a culinary genius and instinct she lacks, despite her technical skills and knowledge. He strikes a deal to help her wow a local chef in the hopes of reopening her bake shop and brings her home to his family just before Christmas, where both of them must let old wounds heal. Second in a series.

enchanted noelOne Enchanted Noel by Melissa Tagg. Third and final in the series, this Christmas romance brings recovering addict Leigh together with Seb, who remembers her at her lowest point. Seb’s in town to renovate the local movie theater for his grandfather’s business so he can earn enough money to save his friend’s ranch. Leigh hopes to kick-start a career as an event planner so she can move on from her job as an assistant manager at a restaurant. Leigh’s teenager daughter, suspicious of her mom’s motives and worried she’ll relapse, complicates everything when she remembers Seb from years ago.

silver bellsSilver Bells by Deborah Raney. Set in the early 1970s, this novel brings together Michelle, who’s trying to forget the guy who dumped her just before leaving to serve in Vietnam, and Rob, her boss’s son at the newspaper where she’s trying to make a name for herself as a reporter. You can’t help but want the two of them to get together — they’re just so cute. When they encounter one of Michelle’s former schoolmates who’s in an abusive relationship, they’re caught trying to figure out ways to help her that won’t get anyone in trouble. Great dialogue, clean romance (though it’s hard for me to get around the idea that a book set in the 70s is considered historical fiction!) I read this one on Carolyn Astfalk‘s say-so.

cliche christmasA Cliche Christmas by Nicole Dees. Georgia, who lives in Hollywood and writes Hallmark-style Christmas movies for a living, returns to her home town at Christmas at her grandmother’s request to help a little girl with cancer. Problem is, the guy she’d always crushed on is also involved in this project, and she can’t let go of the humiliation she felt the last time they worked together. I read and enjoyed the second book in this series before I knew it was a series — both of these work as standalones.

calm and brightCalm & Bright by Autumn MacArthur. Returning to his hometown in Idaho to spend time with his 4-year-old son, workaholic Brad can’t strike a good balance between work and parenting, which is what broke him and Maddie up to begin with. A possible new job (requiring even more of his time) and possible reconciliation with Maddie are at odds, as Maddie loves living in the small town where she grew up. Good story of a struggle with priorities.

Nonfiction

heart like maryA Heart Like Mary’s by Edward Looney. For the past few weeks, I’ve kept this little book tucked in my bag, and I’ve made a special effort to get to the 9 AM Mass a little early instead of sliding in at 8:59, so I can spend a few quiet moments pondering the day’s reflection. With 31 chapters, this book is a month-long mini-retreat that you can start reading anytime. Each day’s entry contains a Scripture passage, reflection, prayer to Mary our intercessor, and an action item: a step toward living with a Marian heart. This book doesn’t feel like it’s “once and done.” I’m not in any hurry to put this one on the shelf and forget about it. (Review copy received from publisher.) I’m running a month-long series of memes based on the prayers in this book.

making room for GodMaking Room for God: Decluttering and the Spiritual Life by Mary Elizabeth Sperry. Some decluttering books are written by people who act like they have it all together. Those books are not for me. Sperry readily admits that she has a lot of work to do, and that her home is not perfectly neat and tidy all the time. I like the connections made between homemaking and the spiritual life. This book addresses necessary topics like spiritual discipline, reconciliation, prayer, and materialism. The best chapter, in my opinion, is the one where the author draws parallels between clutter and sin. (Advance review copy received from publisher; this book will be released February 2.)

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

#OpenBook: November 2017 Reads

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. I added a new category, Christmas stories, this month because I am all about reading Christmas novels and novellas. Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:

Fiction: Christmas Stories

best of all giftsBest of All Gifts by Sheila Cronin. Two Thanksgivings ago, I read Sheila Cronin’s The Gift Counselor, a perfect Christmastime read. In that story, we meet Jonquil, a young widowed mom who has carved out a unique job as a department-store gift counselor. She helps customers examine their motivation for the gifts they give, while advising them on good gift choices. Jonquil uses data gathered at work for her thesis so she can complete an advanced degree. Jonquil’s story continues in Best of All Gifts, in which we find that her work nemesis is assigned to be her assistant, her new thesis advisor seems to have it in for her (and she’s inexplicably attracted to him), and the father who disappeared when she was eight years old resurfaces. And there’s more: Jonquil’s son has a very scary health crisis and she just isn’t sure that Claude, the contractor she began dating in the first book, really wants to marry her. And Thanksgiving is coming. Read my full review.

christmas at gate 18Christmas at Gate 18 by Amy Matayo. A Sports Illustrated cover model tired of being objectified for her looks (but not tired enough to quit her job) meets a Hollywood executive when they’re both stranded in the Dominican Republic due to a late-season hurricane just before Christmas. I enjoyed the story. I didn’t so much enjoy the attempt at “chemistry” between the two that mostly devolved into Colt’s objectification of Rory. It wasn’t very explicit, but it definitely took away from the message the rest of the story seemed to be trying to convey.

Fiction

they see a familyThey See a Family by Amanda Hamm. Kay reaches out to her friend William for help when an accident kills Kay’s sister and brother-in-law, leaving their baby and toddler in her care. Kay and William had been friends for a long time, and both harbored unspoken crushes. As they navigate the pitfalls of caring for two young children and dealing with Kay’s grief, each tries to figure out how to reveal the feelings of growing love to the other — even as they cook up a plan to become a family out of necessity. Highly recommended. (Advance review copy received from author; book coming in late January.)

sweetbriar cottageSweetbriar Cottage by Denise Hunter. When Noah finds out his ex had never followed through on filing their signed divorce papers, he angrily demands that she set things right. Josephine, who admits the fault in both the failed marriage and messed-up divorce, tries to go one step further and deliver the paperwork to his remote ranch to save him a trip to town. Then the two are stranded due to car trouble and snowy weather, and Josie makes mistake after mistake as she tries to help the two of them out of increasingly difficult circumstances. Finally, when they find themselves in a true crisis, Josie opens up about her harrowing past. This is an intriguing story, well-paced, with lots of flashbacks and a loose end or two.

odds of you and meThe Odds of You and Me by Cecilia Galante. Bernadette “Bird” has less than two weeks to complete her probation for writing bad checks to pay for diapers and food for her young son. A single mom with a complicated history with her mom, Bird is trying hard to make a new start when she discovers her former coworker James, a badly-injured fugitive with a stolen gun, hiding in her local church. Bird must grapple with the dilemma of whether to help him as he once helped her, while balancing her job, parenting, her grief about some events in her past, and her difficulties with her mother. This book contains a few inaccurate representations of what the Church actually teaches.

surprise meSurprise Me by Sophie Kinsella. This author never disappoints — she puts terrific characters in believable situations, and she lets them (and the reader) feel just the right amount of discomfort. When a young couple’s doctor tells them on their tenth anniversary that they’ll probably live long enough to be married 68 years, they panic: how will they keep it fresh? But their manic, hilarious (and expensive) attempts to surprise each other come dangerously close to breaking them up. A fun read. (Netgalley review.)

YA/Children’s

Final Julia's Gifts Front revJulia’s Gifts by Ellen Gable. Prepare to be charmed! I loved Julia’s hopefulness, shown that December of 1917 when she spent nearly all she had on a gift for someone she had not yet met. These gifts figure significantly in the story — because she brings them to a war zone with her, in the hopes that she’ll get to give them to her one true love. Instead, she finds that she’s called to sacrifice them in ways she never imagined. This is a well-researched piece of historical fiction about a time period that’s often overshadowed by the World War II era. This was written for the YA audience, but adults will enjoy it too. Read my full review. (Advance review copy received from author.)

caleb and kitCaleb and Kit by Beth Vrabel. Caleb has cystic fibrosis and the burdensome care routine and restrictions that keep him alive are getting him down and causing problems with his peers. In the summer he meets Kit, a girl his age who’s pretty much on her own. The two of them form a secret friendship where they can both take a break from the burdens each of them bears. Beautiful novel for middle-school students, with a sensitive treatment of what it’s like for a young teen to live with a chronic illness — and for his family.

Nonfiction

tied in knotsTied in Knots: Finding Peace in Today’s World by Greg Willits. This is a book I’ll probably revisit again, with highlighter in hand. I appreciate Willits’ openness about his own struggles with anxiety and what it has cost him. However, I was distracted by all the personal stories and I know I missed the crux of the book because of that. It was too easy to get carried away by the personal accounts. This book begs for a second read, this time with less concentration on Willits’ own story and more on the advice he offers. The end of the book features a useful guide to the Rosary and the Novena to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots.

reading peopleReading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel. I love all things personality theory, so I was prepared to love this book. But it was really more of a beginner’s guide; I’d read many of the books Bogel used as resources for this book. There wasn’t much in there that was new to me, and I don’t think the book really kept the promise it made in the subtitle. I’d have called it “a beginner’s guide to seeing the world through the lens of personality.” Bogel spent a lot of time sharing what she discovered about herself with each form of personality theory, but there wasn’t much on what everyone else can learn.

PrintThe Peace of Christmas: Quiet Reflections from Pope Francis by Diane Houdek. The reflections begin with a gratitude-themed essay that is perfect for Thanksgiving and continue through Advent and the Christmas season. Each entry in this book is only a couple of pages long (so you won’t feel stressed-out trying to keep up with it) and has three parts: a quiet reflection from Pope Francis, followed by “A Christmas Reality” — a reality check from the author on how to live out Pope Francis’ teaching, and “Your Christmas Gift Today,” an action item that’s not something so taxing that it will cause you to feel you have yet another obligation on a day that’s already packed with things to do, places to go, and stuff to check off your ever-growing list. Read my full review. (Advance copy received from publisher.)

another place at the tableAnother Place at the Table by Kathy Harrison. This book about the plight of foster children in very difficult circumstances was written from the point of view of a foster mom. She’s very honest about her wish to be able to save all children who are facing extreme family challenges, even when she knows she’s spread too thin already. She’s also honest about the occasional error in judgment — which, let’s face it, we all make as parents. But it’s clear that she is operating from a true love of children and a wish to give kids who’ve had a horrific start in life a chance at a better future. Due to its sometimes graphic nature, this book is for older teens and adults.

catholic hipster handbookThe Catholic Hipster Handbook by Tommy TIghe is packed with plenty of Catholic inside baseball without making the reader feel unworthy. This book won’t teach you how to be a cool Catholic. Instead, it revels in what’s cool about being Catholic and invites the reader to revel in it too. Tommy Tighe gathered together 15 cool Catholics, many of whom you’ll find speaking and tweeting and writing and hosting Catholic radio shows, to help put this handbook together. Read my full review. (Advance reading copy received from publisher.)

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

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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#OpenBook: October 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

hometown girlHometown Girl by Courtney Walsh. Beth had always dreamed of life in the big city, but she felt bound to a family business after her own business decision left it endangered. She blames herself for her father’s death and won’t forgive herself for her mistake, or tell anyone about it. When her sister Molly buys a local farm with a tragic secret, Beth finds herself caught up in turning the farm back into a tourist destination, with the help of Drew, a young man who has a link to the farm’s decades-old tragedy. He can’t tell anyone about his past either. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and stayed up too late reading it.

just maybeJust Maybe by Crystal Walton. What hooked me on this story right off the bat? Quinn is a magazine editor who just can’t help herself: she corrects people’s grammar under her breath or feels the need to run away when a conversation gets too grammatically off-track. Too funny. Quinn is on assignment to get the dirt on self-made millionaire Cooper Anderson. She wants to succeed with this story, because her job is on the line and she fears her boss, whom she’s nicknamed “Cruella.” But when she shows up at Cooper’s house, she finds him packing to leave the country, putting his home on the market and trying to find a permanent home for the toddler who was just delivered to him after the death of Cooper’s ex: a child he never even knew he had. But Quinn has secrets too: she grew up in that neighborhood and ran away from it several years ago, putting her family’s country ways — and her father’s serious health problems — behind her. A fun story, a clean romance, and characters you can easily enjoy. Well done.

tidbit of trustA Tidbit of Trust by Elizabeth Maddrey. A fun, light read. A contractor and youth pastor runs into a woman from his own parish while on a mission trip to Jamaica. She’s at a local resort, and he knows her reputation — but he’s attracted anyway. Meanwhile, she’s trying to shake off that old reputation and turn her life around, but too many people from church won’t let her make a clean break with her past. (Note: people on the cover are not at all as I pictured them, which is perhaps a good reason to read books on Kindle, where you don’t see cover art.)

woman in cabin 10The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware. Lo Blacklock is a journalist trying to prove herself. On a press junket aboard a newly-launched semprivate boutique cruise ship, she sees and hears something she shouldn’t: a scream — and then a woman goes overboard. Suspense builds as Lo receives anonymous warnings to stop digging for information about what happened; things go missing from her cabin; and she winds up in mortal danger. I’m not entirely sure I bought the ending (then again, I don’t generally read thrillers — this book was a gift) but the book definitely kept me reading.

three godfathersThe Three Godfathers by Peter B. Kyne. I loved this little book. Written a century ago, its style would be perfect for a read-aloud (not for young children, but for grownups — I could picture the adults in a family settling down to enjoy it together after the small children were asleep. The prose was lyrical and carried the reader through the story of The Three Bad Men who, on the run in the southwestern-US desert after the fourth in their number was killed in a bank robbery gone wrong, encounter a young widow in labor — but no water. The dying widow entreats them to be the godfathers of her newborn, and they take this responsibility very seriously. The Three Bad Men are changed spiritually by agreeing to be godfathers for the baby in a wonderful story of sacrifice (and maybe even redemption).

one pink lineOne Pink Line by Dina Silver. At its heart, I found this book to center on selfishness. Even as the reader has to applaud the young college student for keeping her baby when she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, it’s hard to get past the selfish decisions she made that got her there in the first place (cheating on her longtime boyfriend). It’s even harder to get past the fact that she keeps her daughter’s parentage a secret (though there’s a rich grandmother in the picture who only sends gifts to that child, not the younger ones in the family … ). The can of worms opens up when her daughter is at school and learns about conception in biology class — and figures out that her family might not be what she’s always assumed it is.

sweet tea tuesdaysSweet Tea Tuesdays by Ashley Farley. Good friends are hard to find. This novel takes on the crises several friends are experiencing, some of which could cost them their treasured friendship. It seems like a lot for 3 people to go through all at once, and the secrets they keep from each other threaten to tear these friends and neighbors apart. Bring tissues.

 

Nonfiction

forgiving motherForgiving Mother by Marge Fenelon. This book speaks to the heart of those who carry the burden of wounds from the past. Marge’s honesty and courage in sharing the harrowing details of the abuse she suffered from her mother as well as the redeeming power of the relationship she developed with Mary, Mother of God and Mother to us all, will encourage any reader who needs to find healing, forgiveness and hope in a difficult relationship. Read my full review. (ARC received from publisher)

Franciscan saintsThe Franciscan Saints by Robert Ellsburg. The saints in this book come from all walks of life: missionaries, princesses (yes, a princess!), poets, widows, martyrs, reformers, Secular Franciscans, prophets, mystics, stigmatists, and popes. Teens preparing for Confirmation would do well to check out this book; the biographies of each saint are brief (averaging 2 pages) and include a quote (usually a quote from the saint). Read my full review. I enjoyed this peek into the “who’s who of the Franciscan family” and flagged several saints for further study. (ARC received from publisher)

… And with that, I have reached my Goodreads goal of 99 books read in 2017, 2 months ahead of schedule.

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 … and this month, there were some 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 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz