#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

#OpenBook: September 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

in the light of the gardenIn the Light of the Garden by Heather Burch. Set on an island on Florida’s Gulf Coast, family secrets come to the fore when Charity Baxter inherits her grandfather’s estate and moves to the island to continue his work making custom pottery. Her return to the island reawakens a twenty-year-old burden of guilt about the death of her grandmother. Charity’s neighbor Dalton battles heartbreak of his own, and the meaning of family and the destructive power of long-held secrets are revealed. An excellent story.

dancing with firefliesDancing with Fireflies by Denise Hunter. I couldn’t even tell this book was the second in a series — it’s that well done. Pregnant after date rape, Jade returns to the hometown she’d hoped to leave behind, but she doesn’t feel she can trust her family or neighbors with her secret. Complicating matters is the town’s mayor, a young man who always had a crush on Jade, and whose love she doesn’t feel she’s worthy of.

loves vowLove’s Vow by Melissa Storm. This novella concludes the story of Summer and Ben’s whirlwind romance. When all the little things and some of the big things go wrong as their wedding day approaches, Summer and Ben will need the help of the whole town if they want to get married. I enjoyed reading more about the characters in the “First Street Church” series, including the Kindle Worlds series written by other authors about the same small town.

something like familySomething Like Family by Heather Burch. Abandoned as a teenager by his drug-addicted mother, Rave finds himself entangled with an adrift single mom because he doesn’t want the same thing to happen to her son. When he’s notified that the grandfather he thought was dead is very much alive and wants to meet him, Rave returns to his mother’s home town to seek the family ties he never had — but that little boy is never far from his thoughts. A beautiful story of family, community and devotion.

black narcissusBlack Narcissus by Rumer Godden. When an order of Sisters is given an estate on a mountain in the Himalayas in order to build a school and medical clinic, they must battle temptations of all kinds as they struggle to survive in a new culture and climate. This was a really disturbing story, but that didn’t come without warning. It was noted right at the beginning the the location would be enough to unsettle anyone.

Children’s/YA

PlayingbyHeart coverPlaying by Heart by Carmela Martino. Set in 18th-century Milan, Playing by Heart is a symphony of romance and faith with an undercurrent of social commentary. Will Maria and Emilia’s father sacrifice their futures on the altar of his own ambitions to join the noble class? Carmela Martino’s new novel for teen readers explores family ties, vocations, and discernment of the best ways to use God-given gifts. Cue up some Vivaldi or Pachelbel and settle in for an intriguing tale. Read my full review. (ARC provided by author)

standing strongStanding Strong by Theresa Linden. Continuing the series she began with Roland West, Loner and continued with two more novels, Linden’s next novel about the West brothers centers on Roland’s two older brothers, who are twins but as opposite as can be. While Jarret works to figure out how to move forward after a life-changing experience (described in Battle for His Soul, which you really need to read before you read this), his twin has a struggle of his own as he discerns whether to join the Franciscan brothers. It’s not easy to reinvent yourself while you’re still in high school, as Jarret West discovers as he seeks a way to turn his life around after an intense spiritual experience. His twin brother couldn’t be more different: Keefe contemplates joining the Franciscan friars. Theresa Linden recounts twin spiritual quests in her newest novel. (ARC provided by author)

Nonfiction

super girls and halosSuper Girls and Halos by Maria Morera Johnson (Ave Maria Press). I love that Maria Morera Johnson began her new book, Super Girls and Halos (Ave Maria Press, 2017), with a quote from the only superhero movie I ever liked: The Incredibles. Mrs. Incredible is probably the first “supergirl” I could relate to. She’s a mom. She worries about her family. She’s the most real superhero I’ve encountered. Maria found a way to show the human side of superheros and saints without diluting their extraordinary virtues. Read my interview with the author. (ARC provided by publisher)

igniteIgnite: Read the Bible like Never Before by Sonja Corbitt and Deacon Harold Burke-Silvers (Servant Books). This book challenges both individuals and groups to try reading the Bible. Acknowledging that many faithful people try reading the Bible but are daunted by dry and difficult readings and commentaries, Sonja and Deacon Harold share some strategies that work for them, setting up a Lectio-Divina-based study structure that can include technological resources such as Bible apps, online daily readings, and print or audio resources. Read my full review. (ARC provided by publisher)

st faustina book conversionTwo Saint Faustina prayer books: Susan Tassone’s “St. Faustina Prayer Book” series focuses the power of intercessory prayer on two great needs: the Holy Souls in Purgatory and the conversion of sinners. The St. Faustina Prayer Book for the Conversion of Sinners and The Saint Faustina Prayer Book for the Holy Souls in Purgatory contain more than prayers. st faustina book holy soulsYou’ll also find essays on conversion, sin, penance, Purgatory and the spirituality of St. Faustina Kowalska. Organized by theme, the books lead the reader through learning and devotions. Read my full review. (ARC provided by 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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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

An Open Book: August 2017 Reads

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

Working full-time doesn’t leave me much room for pleasure reading, so my book consumption has definitely slowed. Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:

Fiction

maggies wayLinda Bradley, Maggie’s Way (Montana Bound Series book 1). Maggie, arguably, has it tough this summer. Her husband of 20+ years has just “come out” and divorced her, and she’s undergoing radiation for breast cancer with only her mom for support, because she won’t tell anyone else about it. And now she has a new next-door neighbor, a very needy little girl who’s been abandoned (over and over again) by her own mother, and whose father finds himself attracted to Maggie. While the main character of this novel was irritating at times, little Chloe stole my heart.

comfort of secretsChristine Nolfi, The Comfort of Secrets. Cat Mendoza wants her marketing job to work out so she can help save her small town. A new business associate, Ryan, proves to be more than a coworker–but complications from his past threaten their future. I liked how the story came full circle–and then some! This was a story and cast of characters that I had a hard time parting with; they’re still inhabiting my thoughts.

wedding miracleMelissa Storm, A Wedding Miracle. It’s no joke: a minister and a rabbi meet at the wedding of their good friends, and it soon becomes clear that they’re destined to be together. This short rom-com would make a terrific movie! It has that same “these two really do belong together” feel that you get when you watch “You’ve Got Mail.”

Children’s/YA

other side of freedomCynthia T. Toney, The Other Side of Freedom. In Prohibition-era Louisiana, Sal struggles with questions of right and wrong as an organized-crime ring forces family members into involvement with bootlegging, with heartbreaking results. Keeping the secret will keep Sal and his parents alive, but is it worth the cost of losing contact with friends and his beloved uncle? I love how the cover image focuses on the very worried eyes of the young man in this novel. Recommended for middle-school readers and young teens studying this period of American history. (ARC provided by author)

Nonfiction

busy lives and restless soulsBusy Lives & Restless Souls. I picked up this book because I knew nothing about Ignatian spirituality and I welcomed the chance to learn something new. As a pragmatic person, I found comfort in the practical advice that I learned is a hallmark of the Ignatian way of life and which is so clearly explained by author Becky Eldredge. (ARC received from publisher) Read my full review.
101 places to pray before you die101 Places to Pray Before You Die. Since many holy sites are closing due to lack of visitors and funding, like the St. Katharine Drexel Shrine near Philadelphia, PA, this book is a well-timed reminder to take the opportunity to visit such places while the opportunity still exists. Your visit supports the efforts of those who maintain and staff these churches, shrines and other sites. (ARC received from publisher) Read my full review.
friendship projectThe Friendship Project. This new book from Michele Faehnle and Emily Jaminet (Ave Maria Press, 2017) inspires women to foster friendships based on holy virtues. Friends since college, Michele and Emily write from their own experience, sharing the joys of their twenty-year friendship. Each chapter features a pair of women saints who were friends, and focuses on one virtue that will help us to become better friends and deepen our spiritual friendships. (ARC 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!

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 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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#OpenBook: July 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

things we knewThe Things We Knew by Catherine West. When I reached the last page of this book, I found it very hard to leave this family of characters behind. Catherine West has created a wonderful group of flawed-but-working-on-it characters, most from one family, and all of whom have been wounded by a family tragedy that no one quite understands. Lynette, the youngest and most wounded, holds the key to everyone’s healing, including her own–but it’s been used to lock up the traumatic memories of what a middle-schooler once witnessed. Addiction and dementia in some characters add to the challenges this family faces. I read this book because Carolyn recommended it! It’s definitely the best novel I’ve read this month.

murphys luckMurphy’s Luck by Benjamin Laskin. A very different romance–quirky, captivating and a terrific story. Murphy Drummer has the worst luck. Everything falls down around him, though he manages to escape unscathed. After he’s kicked out of school, his grandfather keeps him at home, where he tries out every hobby under the son while managing never to leave the house. Murphy manages to make a name and a nice living for himself as a blogger. Once his grandfather dies and he does leave, a chance encounter with a woman who always seems to land on her feet raises the possibility that Murphy’s luck just might change.

cub creekCub Creek by Grace Greene. This novel paints a disturbing picture in a beautiful setting. Libbie is running from a tragic past, but her impulsive purchase of a home in the middle of nowhere turns eerie quickly when she feels like she’s being watched and has flashbacks to some of the horrors in her formative years. Her relocation isn’t enough to keep tragedy from following where she goes. There’s hints at some sort of mental illness on top of Libbie’s abusive family background.

loves highwayLove’s Highway by Jane Lebak. This novella is part of the “First Street Church Kindle Worlds” series by over a dozen different authors. I’m a fan of Jane’s work so I read hers first. Casey, a young woman on the run, shows up in Sweet Grove and lets her guard down immediately when she sees someone abandoning a litter of puppies. She can’t help but be captivated by the community there, especially Peter, who’s willing to put off his own future in order to see his brilliant sister through veterinary school. Casey is challenged to learn her own lessons in sacrifice and trust. This story stands alone, but you’ll want to read more about the town–and I do hope Jane will be writing more about these characters!

loves prophetLove’s Prophet by Melissa Storm. A sweet love story that continues the “First Street Church” small-town romance series. Widower Liam has shut himself off from the world, including his young daughter, who’s on a mission to carry out her mother’s dying wish: to complete the family once again. Molly Sue has her heart set on Jennifer, an old friend of her mom’s; will old memories get in the way of new romance?

 

YA/Kids

spokesSpokes by Deanna K. Klingel. Two homeschooled teens team up to train for a triathlon after a tragic hit-and-run claims the life of Kelsey’s mom. With the help of friars from a nearby monastery, Kelsey and Brendon set out to solve the mystery that has police stymied while each of them works through emotional journeys through grief. Recommended for readers in middle school and up.

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 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

 

#OpenBook: May 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

The Memory of Butterflies by Grace Greene. Secrets have a way of coming out–and the longer you keep them, the deeper the repercussions. As Hannah prepares to send her daughter Ellen off to college, she begins rebuilding her childhood home, opening the door to the revelation of long-buried secrets that threaten the foundation of her family life. Hannah must decide whether to sacrifice herself to protect those she loves. Grace Greene has created a world that the reader will picture vividly. Some scenes will make you weep, and there are some good surprises in the story as well! (Netgalley review.)

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. This heartbreaking novel, based on a true story, follows several children from a Depression-era family who are snatched from their home and their parents under the guise of a corrupt social program that’s a cover for illegal adoptions. Parallel story lines detail the children’s experience in the Tennessee Children’s Home and the efforts of their modern-day grandchildren to uncover the mysteries surrounding their grandparents’ early lives in order to offer peace to their grandparents in their last days. (Netgalley review.)

Then Came You by Becky Wade. Carolyn got me interested in reading this author’s work after talking it up in last month’s Open Book. Then Came You is a novella that sets the stage for the Bradford Sisters Romance series: it’s the story of the three sisters’ early life with their father, Garner Bradford, heir to a huge shipping empire. The story is told through letters, phone conversations and journal entries.

True to You by Becky Wade. Nora Bradford, the middle daughter in the family, is a genealogist and owner/curator of a local historical village. Nora is still getting over a breakup several years ago, but she finds herself falling for the former Navy SEAL who’s hired her to locate his birth mother so he can find out more about his medical history.

Unquestionably Yours by Becky Wade. Oilman’s daughter Meg inherits her father’s business empire but doesn’t want any part of running it. When she decides to shut down his ranching enterprise, manager Bo Porter sets out to convince her to keep it open. He doesn’t count on falling for her in the process.

Love’s Prayer by Melissa Storm. In this sweet Christian romance, Summer arrives in town to run her aunt’s flower shop for several weeks. Ben, who despairs over his life ever getting better after his brother’s suicide ruined his family life, takes a chance on prayer–a prayer that’s immediately answered when Summer delivers a mysterious flower arrangement to his home. This is a fast, clean read set in a town that sounds like a wonderful place to live. Its message: love changes things, if you let it. First in a series.

Love’s Promise by Melissa Storm. Second in the First Street Church Romance series, this novel (like the previous one) is a quick, fun read. The Christian characters openly pray, attend church services and functions, and read the Bible, but the reader won’t feel like they’re being beaten over the head with religious platitudes. In this story, Kristina undergoes gastric bypass surgery and her coworker Jeff struggles with his father’s professional expectations for him as well as his feelings for Kristina. A meddling friend convinces him to keep his affection to himself (against his better judgment) while Kristina wonders if Jeff could ever fall for a girl with a weight problem.

The Bookshop on Rosemary Lane by Ellen Berry. After the death of her mother, a cookbook collector whose volumes are stored all over her home, Della decides to open a bookshop to sell the cookbooks and encourage community. Along the way, she learns some of the secrets her mother was keeping and discovers how to handle the breakdown of her own marriage. Some things fall into place a little too conveniently, but it’s a fun read.

Children’s/YA

McCracken and the Lost Lady by Mark Adderley. Readers will enjoy the suspense and adventure that follows McCracken as he travels the world with his wife and toddler plus a fascinating crew from all over the world–in a zeppelin complete with its own library, chef’s kitchen, and a wealth of scientific equipment. For ages 10 and up. Read my full review. (ARC provided by author.)

Turning in Circles by Michelle Buckman. “If only we had known.” That’s the refrain at the heart of Michelle Buckman’s latest novel for teens: Turning in Circles, a story of sisters, small-town secrets and teenage rebellion. The novel is a study in character contrast. Savannah, busy covering for her sister who’s sneaking off to meet Dillon, uncovers way too many long-buried secrets as she seeks a way to protect her sister from her boyfriend. You know this won’t end well, but the ending is not what you expect. At the same time, it’s the only ending possible. This novel for teen readers is a study in contrasts. Read my full review. (ARC provided by author.)

Nonfiction

When the Timer Dings: Organizing Your Life to Make the Most of 10 Minute Increments by Katharine Grubb. While the author calls herself the “10 Minute Novelist,” this book on time- and life-management is not simply for writers. Anyone who works from home will benefit from the wisdom and the exercises at the end of each chapter. Katharine is honest about the challenges those who work at home (especially parents who work at home) face, and shares family-tested solutions for handling those challenges.

Our Lady of Fatima: 100 Years of Stories, Prayers and Devotions by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle. For those who wonder what the Blessed Mother’s apparitions 100 years ago to three young shepherd children in Portugal could possibly mean for Catholics today, Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s new book provides both context and inspiration. Each chapter concludes with a section inviting the reader to consider the impact of Fatima for ourselves. My full review is at CatholicMom.com. (ARC provided by publisher)

Heads Bowed: Prayers for Catholic School Days by Lisa Mladinich. This book of prayers can be used by catechists, Catholic-school teachers or homeschooling parents. Prayers are organized a week at a time, and include liturgical-year themes as well as themes related to common school issues. There are even two weeks of prayers for teachers to use as they prepare for the upcoming school year. (ARC provided by 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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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: April 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

cherishCherish by A.J. Avila. Candice is a powerful DA who seems to have it all–but when she has a heart attack just before beginning the closing argument in the case that will make her career, she finds herself in a courtroom of a different sort. Now she must decide whether to repair a long-broken friendship with a former classmate, now dead; her eternal salvation depends on it. I couldn’t put this one down and will look for more from this author.

promise girlsThe Promise Girls by Marie Bostwick. A family of 3 “test-tube-baby” daughters, now adults, stays far away from their narcissistic, fame-seeking mother until an indie filmmaker decides to uncover the truth about their ancestry. I found the ending less than satisfying.

sandcastle sisterThe Sandcastle Sister by Lisa Wingate. I wish this story had been longer! It’s a return to a locale featured in previous Wingate novels. Editor Jen is torn between staying in Paris with author Evan…and suspects he might want to get married. But back at home, her sister is digging into family secrets and Jen needs to do some damage control. Enjoyable read.

sweet lakeSweet Lake by Christine Nolfi. A dutiful daughter takes on her fly-by-night brother in this fun novel, the first in a new series by Christine Nolfi. Linnie, struggling to keep afloat the inn that’s been her family’s business for several generations, has put her own dreams and her love life on hold while her brother (who was supposed to run the inn when he came of age but instead stole from the inn’s bank account and skipped town) enjoys life as a globetrotting filmmaker. It seemed to me that the novel was missing some back story; I felt that we were thrust into the middle of a drama without knowing the beginning.

idea of youThe Idea of You by Amanda Prowse. The pace and length of this novel was its biggest obstacle. The story of Lucy’s long-buried (and surprising) secret and how it affects all of her relationships was intriguing, but the telling of this story took too long. (Netgalley review)

Nonfiction

broken brain fortified faithBroken Brain, Fortified Faith by Virginia Pillars. Virginia Pillars’ memoir of a mother navigating the world of parenting a young adult with a brand-new diagnosis schizophrenia is at once heart-wrenching, informative and inspiring. Pillars honestly describes her day-by-day experience with her daughter’s illness and recovery, with a view toward helping other families whose lives are touched by a frustrating disease.
(ARC provided by author; full review coming soon!)

a gathering of larks by abigail carroll back (1)A Gathering of Larks: Letters to St. Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim by Abigail Carroll. A contemporary poet writes to St. Francis of Assisi as she explores his life with a focus on his choices, mistakes and faith. Abigail Carroll refuses to fall into the trap of stereotyping St. Francis–and that was a great relief. This book is highly recommended for anyone with a devotion to St. Francis of Assisi. Read my full review.

God is not fairGod is Not Fair, and Other Reasons for Gratitude by Dan Horan, OFM. A collection of essays exploring how “the very core of Christianity appears foolish in the world.” (p. 3) This makes it Franciscan to the core: St. Francis of Assisi spent his life as a “fool for Christ” in his quest to fully live the Gospel. Read my full review.

YA/Children’s Books

32 days32 Days: A Story of Faith and Courage by Ellen Lucey Prozeller. Historical fiction account of the life of a little girl in China who, with her family, was forced to practice her Catholic faith in secret. After her church was desecrated by Communist soldiers, Pei makes the risky decision to sneak into the church at night to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. The story is told from Pei’s point of view. Readers in grades 3 through 5 will learn about a child their own age who lives her faith in a time of oppression: a young, unknown Catholic hero.

con academyCon Academy by Joe Schreiber. Will has conned his way into an elite New England prep school, but discovers he’s not the only con artist there. Wagers abound as Will tries to avoid returning to a rundown Trenton, NJ neighborhood in disgrace. This mystery novel for middle-school and high-school readers was clever and entertaining, but the pace of the story was inconsistent.

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 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: March 2017 Reads

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

Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nonfiction

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Copyight 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: February 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

vanishedVanished (The Memoirs of Jane_E, Friendless Orphan, book 3) by Erin McCole Cupp. Easily my favorite of the three books in the series, Vanished brings the near-future dystopian retelling of Jane Eyre to a satisfying conclusion. Author Erin McCole Cupp’s fine attention to technical details creates a world that, chillingly, could be nearer than we’d think. More so than in the other books, Jane_E’s need to live with integrity is the driving force in the story.

intermissionIntermission by Serena Chase. Faith’s mother continually tries to squash her Broadway dreams for a more practical profession, accusing Faith of flightiness and bad behavior even as she ignores worse behavior from Faith’s older sister. Faith’s budding romance with a slightly-older actor with similar musical-theatre dreams leads her mother to forbid the two to have any contact. Faith impatiently waits until Noah completes a 2-year program of study overseas, but as she’s unable to get in touch with Noah, she has no idea if he will return to her. This YA romance novel has a strong, but not overbearing, Christian element. Some characters openly evaluate their own behavior according to godly standards, and the subject of chastity, purity and reputation are openly discussed and central to the story. The suspense in this novel is its greatest asset. Chase admirably moves the plot along, while bringing the reader to tears–and sometimes to anger–over the events taking place. Highly recommended for high-school students.

mothers-promiseThe Mother’s Promise by Sally Hepworth. This book will absolutely tear you apart emotionally. Alice fiercely protects her daughter, Zoe, who suffers from severe social anxiety. When Alice is diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer, the two are forced to leave their insular world and take radical steps out of their comfort zones, finding support from a nurse, a social worker and a high-school boy, all of whom face their own secret challenges. Bring tissues, but don’t skip it. (Netgalley)

hope-chestThe Hope Chest by Viola Shipman. Such a sweet story with absolutely lovable characters, in a town you’ll want to move into. Single-mom Rose finds work caring for Mattie, an ALS patient. Rose and young daughter Jeri find their way into Mattie’s heart, as well as her husband Don’s. Together they all learn to face death by focusing on hope: specifically, the various treasures found in Mattie’s long-neglected hope chest. (Netgalley)

 

wedding-in-truhartA Wedding in Truhart by Cynthia Tennent. Annie has to plan a wedding suitable for her TV-news-star sister and all the Atlanta society folk traveling to humble Truhart, Michigan for the festivities. This novel is all about appearances and what really matters. The love story between Annie and her old crush, Nick, is the main part of the novel. 2 unnecessarily-graphic sex scenes.

 

 

close-enough-to-touchClose Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley. Imagine being allergic to the human touch. Jubilee has lived most of her life unable to touch or be touched by others. Now that her mother has died, she must find a way to support herself. She nearly dies after giving in to instinct, jumping into a river to save a drowning child and resuscitating him. She falls for the child’s dad–and he for her–but cannot bring herself to tell him why she keeps him at arm’s length. (Netgalley)

heavenawaitsfrontcover-768x1152Heaven Awaits by Shannon Claire Morelli. Emily McDougal’s purchase of her first home sets off a chain of events leading to friendship with a neighbor old enough to be her mother, a new romance, and renewed commitment to her Catholic faith. But both she and Tim bear old wounds from past relationships, and Tim has other discerning to do as well. A sweet novel of new beginnings and healing past hurts.

Nonfiction

PrintSaint Junípero Serra’s Camino: A Pilgrimage Guide to the California Missions by Stephen J. Binz. (Franciscan Media) An impressively comprehensive guidebook of the 21 California missions featuring a short biography of St. Junípero Serra, a look at the colonial and missionary climate of the 18th century, and separate chapters for each mission. Readers are invited to take walking, driving or virtual pilgrimages in which they learn the history of each mission site, examine its architecture, discover its patron saint and engage in prayer. Lack of color photos is my only negative about this book. (ARC received from publisher)

country-betweenA Country Between: Making a Home where Two Sides of Jerusalem Collide by Stephanie Saldana. Several years in the life of a woman who lives in an intentionally non-intentional way. She appears driven by whim rather than purpose. The memoir begins at her arrival at a monastery in Syria, where she falls in love with a young French monk; he eventually leaves the monastery to marry her. They settle in a war-torn corner of Jerusalem, arriving at an apartment as the result of a seemingly-random sequence of events, and she decides it’s imperative to have a child after a traumatic incident on the street. I can’t understand her insistence on continuing to live and raise her children in a war zone when she clearly has opportunities to live elsewhere. The writing is poetic and evocative.(Netgalley)

meeting-god-in-the-upper-roomMeeting God in the Upper Room: Three Moments to Change Your Life by Msgr. Peter J. Vaghi (Franciscan Media). Msgr. Varghi’s discussion of the history of the Upper Room based on Gospel accounts complements the meditations that are the meat of this book. I found the history fascinating; in various chapters, you’ll read about personalities, prophecy, sacraments, and Catholic social teaching. Each chapter ends with a section titled “Preparing Your Upper Room” in which the reader is invited to consider the personal implications of Jesus’ message. Read my full review. (ARC 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!

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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#OpenBook: January 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

this-dread-roadThis Dread Road by Olivia Folmar Ard. An intriguing tale of two young women, a generation apart, who must learn to live with the consequences of romantic choices they make–and one man who figures prominently in both their lives. Annemarie, a college freshman far from home and the reach of her overbearing mother’s attempts to set her up with every eligible bachelor in the region, falls hard for a man her parents certainly wouldn’t approve of. Her immaturity leads her to handle all of this the wrong way, with results that prove disastrous for her family relationship, her mental health and her love life. 50 years later, that same man mentors Claire, an heiress trying to escape her own mother and her own past. This book is third in a series, but you don’t have to have read the others to enjoy it–I recommend you do read them all, though!(Review based on ebook ARC provided by author)

abbys-journeyAbby’s Journey by Steena Holmes. I eagerly anticipated this sequel to Saving Abby, but did not enjoy this book as much as the first. Set 18 years after Abby’s birth and her mother’s death, the book finds a father mired in his grief and beset by (understandable) worry over the fragile health of his only child. Every aspect of the family’s life is controlled by the various lists and journals that were left behind by her mother, Claire. Josh must face his demons when, against his better judgment, extended family members take Abby on the trip of a lifetime–a trip that could cost her life. (Netgalley review; releases 2/14)

blessingsThe Blessings by Elise Juska. A family saga told in vignettes, this novel is set in northeast Philadelphia. As it is a saga, I wanted more–more of the day-to-day life of this family that was depicted in a true-to-life manner. In some cases, years would elapse between events in the various chapters. The story is told from multiple points of view. Recommended for the local color, but there needs to be more to the story.

merry-maryMerry Mary by Ashley Farley. Short novella describing a photojournalist who gets a little too involved in the homeless community she’s studying–right down to taking a baby from a crime scene, then trying to figure out ways to keep the child as she struggles with her own failing marriage and frequent miscarriages. As the story went on I had less and less sympathy for Scottie.

rejected-writers-book-clubThe Rejected Writers Book Club by Suzanne Kelman. The town librarian is invited to a mysterious club meeting for a quirky group of authors whose books are never accepted. When she needs to leave town to care for her high-maintenance pregnant daughter, Janet finds herself accompanied by several writers trying to avert publication of a book containing family secrets. So far-fetched, but definitely a fun read.

Nonfiction

a-sea-without-a-shore-coverA Sea Without a Shore by Jeannie Ewing. Ewing’s words will resonate with readers who feel alone in their pain. While this book is centered on suffering, it is infused with hope. The meditations in chapter 8 (“Faith, Hope and Charity”) are some of the most powerful ones in the book. This, I’m sure, is no accident: these are powerful virtues, as they must be to conquer the despair that can so easily come to those beaten down by life’s difficulties. These meditations are not casual or flip: they are heartfelt, reverent outpourings of the soul. The language is formal, even poetic, with a unique cadence. Written in the first person, each meditation invites the soul to cling to God in prayer. (ARC ebook provided by author)

three-little-wordsThree Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter. I picked up this book on the recommendation of a friend’s daughter who is studying social work. Three Little Words is an honest and harrowing account of life in the foster-care system. The author spent most of her childhood in 14 different foster homes. In some, she received loving care; in others, she was severely abused and saw other children receiving similar treatment. Rhodes-Courter owns her bad behavior and shows true concern for the other children experiencing abuse and neglect in foster care.

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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