An Open Book: October 2020

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. It’s been a long time since I participated in this fun event, so I’m going to cherry-pick the best of what I’ve read this summer.

Fiction

I couldn’t put Love and a Little White Lie by Tammy L. Gray down. It’s a really fun read about a woman who tries to “pass” as a Christian to keep a temp job at a church after a bad breakup – and then realizes that the role she’s playing might cost her a relationship with one of the musicians at the same church. And all the while, there’s the landscape architect who seems to always be around and who’s picked up on her secret. Every little detail adds up to a wonderful story – I’ll look for more from this author.

Debut novelist Brendan Hodge, in If You Can Get It (Ignatius Press), tells the story of a high-powered fashion executive whose confused younger sister’s arrival in her luxury apartment is the catalyst for a reexamination of her career goals and, ultimately, what she wants out of life. Neither sister knows what to make of their parents’ newfound religious fervor, and Jen chases after power and money in a new job that requires her to look the other way at bad business dealings and worse after-hours behavior. A new start in a less-glamorous position close to her parents’ Midwestern home provides Jen the opportunity to ponder what she really wants out of life, even as her sister Katie happily determines her own life path. If You Can Get It is an engaging read that explores the consequences of the single-minded pursuit of success at the expense of faith, family, friendship, and love. There’s a bit of a surprise at the end — and it’s very satisfying. (Review copy received from publisher.)

I almost let the first page deter me from reading Mrs. Saint and the Defectives by Julie Lawson Timmer. Glad I stuck with this story of a newly single mom struggling to make it outside the lifestyle to which she and her highly leveraged ex had been accustomed. Mrs. Saint, the meddlesome woman next door who inexplicably has seemingly incompetent people working for her, is charmingly mysterious and excels at pushing people to reach their potential. You’ll need to suspend disbelief in a big way while you read this, but the characters are wonderful and the novel is truly entertaining.

Bette Lee Crosby’s latest, A Million Little Lies, is set 60 years in the past (or so) but the theme is timeless: what happens when you tell one lie to try to bring about some good, then have to protect yourself by telling more and more lies, until even you begin to forget what the truth is. Susanna, escaping an abusive relationship with her young daughter, sneaks into a crowded funeral hoping for a free meal – and winds up being mistaken for the long-lost granddaughter of the deceased. Going along with that seems to be the best idea at the time for herself and her little girl, but the truth will have to catch up with her at some point.

 

YA/Children’s

Theoni Bell’s The Woman in the Trees, the story of Slainie, a young immigrant girl from Belgium who meets visionary Adele Brise in Wisconsin and learns about Our Lady of Good Hope (the only approved Marian apparition in the USA) will appeal to middle school students as well as adult readers. Set roughly at the same time as Little House in the Big Woods (and not too far away), this novel details the struggles of the immigrants in that time and place, including the Peshtigo fire, a forest fire that devastated their community, all as seen through the eyes of a young girl, beginning when she was only four years old and continuing through her teenage years.

 

 

Nonfiction

I picked up The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore when I discovered it was set in my home state of New Jersey. This was a long book (500+ pages) and very detailed about America’s fascination with the glowing element. Teenage girls and young women were hired to paint watch faces with radium so they would glow; they spread the spare paint on their fingernails, and because they put the paintbrushes in their mouths to shape a point on the bristles, wound up ingesting the carcinogen that caused horrifying physical effects within only a few years. There’s quite a bit of graphic medical information included here, so if that’s not your thing, you might want to skip this one.

I’m in the middle of a new cookbook right now: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat. This cookbook is less about the recipes and more about the science behind cooking, and I am spellbound by what I’m learning. There are pull-out charts, such as a continuum of acidity for common ingredients (lime juice is the winner on the high-acid end!) and a wheel of oils and fats organized by region (don’t cook Asian food in olive oil). There is so much to be learned about science and technique, and it’s presented in a very engaging way. I’m keeping this one on the coffee table so I can page through it and soak up the information.

 

 


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 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

An Open Book: May 2020 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

wartime sistersThe Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman.

5 stars (out of 5)

A lifetime of sibling rivalry comes to a head when little sister Millie and her young child arrive in Ruth’s new hometown, in need of a job and a place to live. Tired of being overshadowed by her pretty sister, Ruth refuses to break down the walls of resentment that have built up over the years, until it becomes obvious that Millie’s life is in danger. Set during World War II, at Springfield Armory in Massachusetts, where many civilians, including young mothers, worked ’round the clock on behalf of the war effort.

5th Avenue Story SocietyThe Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck.

4 stars (out of 5)

An unlikely group of people (an Uber driver, an apartment super, a literature professor behind on his PhD thesis, a cosmetics heiress, and an executive assistant with C-suite aspirations) receive mysterious invitations to a secret literary society at a local library. Curious, they all show up, and connect in ways that go far beyond literature.

Mr PenumbraMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

4 stars (out of 5)

 

Clay takes an overnight job in a hole-in-the-wall bookstore that quickly proves to be more than it initially appears. He draws upon his own technical knowledge and his roommates’ and friends’ abilities and professional contacts to uncover the mystery behind his secretive employer and the very unusual customers who frequent the shop. Well-written and will appeal to readers with technical backgrounds.

book charmerThe Book Charmer (Dove Pond #1) by Karen Hawkins.

4 stars (out of 5)

Dove Pond is an extraordinary small town that’s home to an extraordinary family, but this novel is really about another family. Planning on just a short stay, Grace, her aging foster mother who’s showing signs of dementia, and her orphaned niece move to town. Grace tries to protect her heart and remain disconnected, but the Dove sisters and other neighbors are determined to work their way in — except Trav, a physically and emotionally scarred Gulf War vet who lives next door. I’ll look for more by this author. (Netgalley review)

giver of starsThe Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes.

4 stars (out of 5)

I almost dumped this book early on. The first 3 chapters just didn’t grab me. But I’m glad I kept reading this surprising story of a British woman who married the son of a rich Kentucky mine owner and arrives in Appalachia not knowing what to expect. With a complicated relationship (central to the plot, and I won’t spoil it), she’s at odds in the household until an opportunity to help with a new WPA traveling library system arises. A compelling story of friendship, heartbreaking poverty, and a murder mystery.

 

YA/Children’s

FS front coverFire Starters by Theresa Linden.

5 stars (out of 5)

The teenage characters in Theresa Linden’s West Brothers series grapple with tough issues as they grow in faith. This novel centers on the sacrament of Confirmation, the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, and whether a person must feel ready before they can receive grace. This novel is a great read for teens in youth groups or sacrament prep. Read my full review and interview with the author.

Nonfiction

radical saintsRadical Saints by Melanie Rigney.

5 stars (out of 5)

Melanie Rigney introduces 21 saints who endured much and persevered in their commitment to God’s call in their lives. What makes these saints radical is not extreme beliefs or practices; it’s simply that they chose to love God and their neighbor without reserve. Anecdotes about Melanie’s contemporaries who embody the same values as these saints reinforce the concept that everyday women can embody the same gifts that the saints do. Let the radical saints of the 20th century inspire you to face the challenges in your lifetime. (ARC received from publisher for endorsement.)

i heard god laughI Heard God Laugh: A Practical Guide to Life’s Essential Daily Habit by Matthew Kelly.

4 stars (out of 5)

An introduction to prayer, written in an engaging style for a Catholic audience that’s not necessarily engaged in spiritual life or regular worship. (ARC provided by publisher; longer review to come. Available August 15, 2020.)

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

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

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

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

open book logo


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

An Open Book: April 2020 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

subway girlsThe Subway Girls by Suzie Orman Schnall. The stories of a modern-day advertising executive and a postwar coed with big dreams intersect in this dual-timeline novel based on a real advertising campaign for New York’s mass-transit system. Seeking a fresh advertising angle, Olivia comes across records of the Subway Girls ad campaign and seeks to reinvent the concept. In the late 1940s, Charlotte chased her dreams of making it big in the advertising world, bypassing the typing pool in favor of an appearance on subway posters in the hopes of helping her family’s business and escaping family obligations. A little predictable, but an enjoyable novel.

victorias warVictoria’s War by Catherine A. Hamilton. A Polish Catholic teenager struggles to survive, keep her faith, and help others during World War II. Captured by Nazis, Victoria was sold as a slave to work in a German bakery, where the deaf daughter of the proprietors has already faced abuse due to the Nazi eugenics policy and regularly finds ways to assist pregnant women in labor camps and women captured as sex slaves. An intense novel filled with strong female characters.(Netgalley review; coming June 2020)

moondrop miracleMoondrop Miracle by Jennifer Lamont Leo. In 1928 a young socialite married an up-and-coming financier who loses his own fortune in the 1929 crash, along with that of many of his friends. Left to fend for herself with a baby on the way, Connie decides to market and manufacture the skin-care tonic her eccentric aunt invented (the recipe was given to Connie as a wedding gift). A cottage industry slowly develops into a skin-care empire in this well-told tale that paints a vivid picture of the mid-twentieth century. (Advance review copy received from author.)

logging offLogging Off by Nick Spalding. Andy Bellows is addicted to his cell phone, and his doctor recommends a total detox. Afraid he won’t be able to stick to the plan on his own, Andy agrees to let his journalist friend chronicle his digital detox journey. The results are hilarious. In the middle of a blind date gone terribly wrong, Andy befriends a barista who also wants to disconnect from her phone. Spalding’s tendency toward hyperbole keeps the story rolling along. Spot-on observations about what too much tech does to people, and a laugh-out-loud skewering of fake Instagram influencers. Very funny British fiction, with a generous sprinkling of f-bombs. (Netgalley review)

sweethaven summerA Sweethaven Summer by Courtney Walsh. Following her mother’s death, Campbell finds pages from an old scrapbook that lead her to reconnect with several of her mom’s childhood friends, hoping to get answers about her father’s identity. Old wounds from everyone’s past are reopened when the friends reunite in the resort community where they’d all spent their summers as teenagers. There’s a hint of a romance to come; I’m wondering if it might be part of the second book in the series — and I do intend to read that second book, because I truly did enjoy these characters and the charming small-town setting of the story. A good girlfriend novel that would make a fun, clean beach read.

barefoot summerBarefoot Summer (A Chapel Springs Romance Book 1) by Denise Hunter. This was an intense story about fear and forgiveness. Madison has dedicated herself to fulfilling her deceased twin brother’s lifelong dream: to win a local regatta before their 27th birthday. But because her brother died by drowning, she’s fearful of water and doesn’t know how to sail. And her swimming and sailing lessons wind up being with Beckett, the very man she blames for her brother’s death. As the regatta approaches, stress takes its toll on Madison and threatens her job. The book definitely had its predictable moments, and Beckett seemed to be too good to be true (even with his wrong-side-of-the-tracks origins) but it’s a good escape read.

loves trialLove’s Trial (First Street Church Romance Book 5) by Melissa Storm. I wasn’t a fan – at all – of Sally, the main character in this novel. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to like her; she’s spent most of her life and all her time in Sweet Grove pushing people away, but wishing she had friends. When the restaurant owner’s grandson, Toby, tries clumsily to flirt with her, she is so rude that I was amazed that he tried again to get to know her. But underneath the prickly character and rough beginning (this was so not a meet-cute) there was a worthwhile story about two wounded people who were both dealing with elders in their life with difficult conditions: one with severe agoraphobia and one with a disease that could be treated but who was too stubborn to take the medicine. It helps to have read other books in the series, but it’s not entirely necessary.

YA/Children’s

brother francisBrother Francis of Assisi by Tomie de Paola. Tomie de Paola was one of my favorite author/illustrators. His books aren’t for the youngest reader, but they’re wonderful read-alouds complemented by beautiful watercolor artwork. Tomie de Paola’s strength was in telling the stories of ordinary days, and in Brother Francis of Assisi, de Paola shines in depicting the everyday holiness of the extraordinary saint of Assisi. The book, newly re-released by Magnificat/Ignatius, offers vignettes about the life of St. Francis and his companions, with text on one page and the story on the other — the full episode on a single two-page spread. The story emphasizes simplicity, devotion, and reverence, and does not portray St. Francis as a political figure or activist. The book concludes with “The Song to the Sun,” which is popularly known as the “Canticle of the Creatures.” (Review copy received from publisher.)

drawing godFor children who enjoy art as much as (or more than) the story, Karen Kiefer’s picture book Drawing God (Paraclete Press) is just right. Kathy De Wit illustrated this book about a child who wants to draw something “beyond spectacular” and decides to draw pictures of God. Break out the art supplies and let your children’s imaginations take over as you encourage them to draw God after reading this story together. At the end of the book, the author offers five ways to bring the lessons in this story to life in your home, classroom, and heart. (Review copy received from publisher.)

Nonfiction

overcommittedOvercommitted: Cut Chaos and Find Balance by Rachel Balducci. This book is perfect for any mom who has too much on her plate, whether or not she works outside the home (maybe in these coronavirus days we need a new phrase for this?). Rachel Balducci candidly shares her own struggles with taking on too much and offers advice for evaluating commitments, making decisions, being willing to serve, and dealing with worry and fear. Each chapter ends with three tips, a personal reflection section that would make great journal prompts, a prayer tip, and a prayer starter. Highly recommended. I want to go through it again with a journal and highlighter close by.


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 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: March 2020 Binge Reads

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

Here we are in the first weeks of pandemic social distancing, which means it’s a great time to binge read ALL THE BOOKS. Because distraction is sorely needed. When you can’t leave the house except for groceries, you can still escape into a novel.

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

Fiction

optimists guideThe Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go by Amy E. Reichert. A really enjoyable story about a young widow who’s struggling with her own grief and her middle-school daughter’s, when her very demanding, social-climbing mom suffers a stroke. In caring for her mom, Gina discovers a 40-year-old family secret that explains a lot — and demands even more explanation. Terrific read (and great advice on making terrific grilled cheese!). (Netgalley review)

 

what you wish forWhat You Wish For by Katherine Center. Galveston, TX school librarian Samantha’s new boss is the guy she had a crush on 4 years ago – but now he’s very different. No longer happy-go-lucky, Duncan is only concerned with school safety and seems bent on ridding the school of everything that brought joy to students and staff. A terrific romance and story of the varying effects of trauma on people of all ages. Great read. (Netgalley review; releases July 2020)

finding hopeFinding Hope by Shannon Symonds. When her mother disappears from their trailer, leaving teenager Hope behind with an abusive stepdad, Hope runs away and hides behind a cafe, ultimately making herself indispensable to the inexperienced grandmother who’s working as barista. The barista’s daughter, a social worker, risks her job to help Hope, while other homeless teens in the area get caught up in a sex-trafficking nightmare. Appropriate for older teens and adults.

admissionAdmission by Julie Buxbaum is probably not the book for you if your teenager is in the thick of college application process. Based on the college-admissions scandals of 2019, this novel follows the implosion of one family after a mom who can’t bear to see her daughter attend a non-top-tier school uses an admissions consultant who cheats on the SAT and falsifies an application to get the student into her dream school. There’s a lot of back-and-forth in time, as the author explores who knew what and when. All told from the perspective of the high-school student whose senior year – and family – were wrecked by these actions, this is a well-done take on a real-life news story. (Netgalley review; available May 2020)

BINGE THE SERIES! I read the last three of Amy Matayo’s 4-book Love in Chaos series (I read the first installment back in the summer when it was originally released.) Read them in order for the best experience! These are all disaster suspense, which is kind of a good thing when you need to be reminded that there are people who have it worse than you do.

the waves

aftermath

last shot

reunion

The Waves: Dillon and Liam, both forced to go on a cruise with Dillon’s family, wind up stranded on a tiny deserted island after Dillon tries to escape her family and goes on an impromptu excursion. The two must find ways to survive as they wait and hope for rescue. Good suspense; a clean and sweet romance.

The Aftermath. Riley’s bakery (and some customers) are destroyed in a tornado, and while she tries to hold everything together, a small child wanders in, followed by Chad, who she immediately pushes away while she tries to fix everything on her own. My favorite of the series!

The Last Shot. The intense story of a shooting at a concert and its effects on the country-music star and the security guard who protected him during and after the incident. More than half of the book covers the several hours when singer Teddy and guard Jane hide away from the shooter.

The Reunion. Dillon’s mother is mother-zilla-of-the-bride, but the real wedding disaster happens when a freak snowstorm cripples the area, leaving her possibly without wedding cake and definitely without a venue. Brings together all the principal characters from the previous three books in a fun conclusion to the series.

 

Nonfiction

I was getting started on a very good new book, but I’m having trouble focusing on nonfiction at this point. This isn’t even a review copy — it’s a spiritual read I actually chose for myself, and it was supposed to be my Lenten inspiration. It’s not a long book, so maybe I’ll pick it back up for Holy Week.

let goLet Go: Seven Stumbling Blocks to Christian Discipleship by Casey Cole, OFM. From the blurb: Franciscan Casey Cole challenges us to let go of something more difficult than material wealth: expectations, anxiety, comfort, wounds, enemies, power—and our very selves. Speaking from both personal and pastoral experience, he outlines the stumbling blocks that turn us away from following Jesus as true disciples.

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

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

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

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

open book logo


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

An Open Book: Winter 2020 Reads

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

It’s been so long since I’ve done this; I haven’t kept up with my Goodreads account, and a couple of weeks ago I replaced my Kindle, so now I don’t have that handy-dandy record of ebooks I’ve read (I’m sure it’s available somewhere, but not as easy as swiping page by page through my catalog of books).

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

Fiction

The Rum RunnerThe Rum Runner by Christine Marciniak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Prohibition-era New Jersey, an immigrant with ties to the smuggling industry dies in a dockside turf war. Police officer Alice Grady wants to solve his mysterious death and help his widow and children. Fisherman Hank Chapman, also involved in smuggling, doesn’t want the police to investigate too closely, but he can’t deny his attraction to Alice. A fascinating and well researched tale of suspense.

Come Back to MeCome Back to Me by Carolyn Astfalk

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let me introduce you to the latest binge read from author Carolyn Astfalk. It’s easy to get swept up in Carolyn’s stories, because the characters are true and the dialogue will just carry you along. The male characters in Carolyn’s novels aren’t just one-dimensional caricatures — they’re people you could imagine meeting.
Kicked out of a marriage he’d kind of just fallen into, Alan finds himself bunking in with his brother Chris and wife Rebecca, who are expecting their first baby. Alan grapples with his own wish for children, his desire to reconcile with a wife who doesn’t seem to want anything to do with him, and unrelated job struggles. Complicating matters is his wife’s friend Megan, whose dissatisfaction with her own life choices puts her into an awkward situation with Alan.

A Channel of Your PeaceA Channel of Your Peace by Veronica Smallhorn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Warning: keep your box of tissues handy as you read this sweet story! Erin’s engagement is broken off after her live-in fiance confesses infidelity, and then she finds out she’s pregnant with his child. Her suffering leads her back to faith; it’s not an easy road, but she receives help and consolation in her suffering, both from Our Lady of Guadalupe and a martyr priest. Theology of the Body themes are woven throughout.

Welcome to Wishing Bridge (Wishing Bridge, #1)Welcome to Wishing Bridge by Ruth Logan Herne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pregnant and alone, Kelsey has a car accident in blinding snow that lands her in a town she’d hoped to avoid: her mother’s hometown. She’s sure the locals won’t want anything to do with her, considering her mother’s history of crime and substance abuse. But most of the town turns out to welcome her, as well as her two best friends, who’d grown up in foster care with Kelsey. A lovely story about a lovely town where I’d love to live!

At Home in Wishing Bridge (Wishing Bridge #2)At Home in Wishing Bridge by Ruth Logan Herne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thea, a nurse practitioner who’d lost her job just before her friend Kelsey’s accident, has begun working in Wishing Bridge’s understaffed medical practice. Ethan, the doctor temporarily assigned to the practice, has care of his orphaned niece and nephew and only wants to leave for Chicago to do medical research — but he knows that won’t be good move for the kids, and he’s starting to fall for Thea.
I was really hoping there’d be a Book 3 in this series.

The Book of Lost FriendsThe Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story, told in split time (1875 and 1987), explores the post-Civil-War struggles of former slaves as they attempted to make their way as free people with very limited opportunities in the South and reconnect with family members lost to the slave trade. A teacher in a small Southern town discovers a cache of classic books in an abandoned estate, and this leads her to educate her students about their local history — even when it didn’t make the locals look good. (Netgalley review)

If for Any ReasonIf for Any Reason by Courtney Walsh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An enjoyable story of transformation and reconciliation. Emily returns to Nantucket, where her family had summered until her mother died when Emily was 12. Her grandfather bequeathed the family’s summer home to Emily, who must restore the place before selling it. But her childhood neighbor is on the island too, right next door, with his own tween daughter and pain of a broken relationship.

Please See UsPlease See Us by Caitlin Mullen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A murder mystery set in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and based on a true story. Across the bay from AC, the bodies of several young women were found in a marsh behind a cheap motel. All had ties to the sex trade. Caitlin Mullen tells the story from the points of view of two of the young women, as well as a man who knows something about what’s happening, but can’t make his voice heard. I chose this book because I remembered the story from the news a few years ago. It’s a harrowing story, well told. Warning: sexual violence, other violence, graphic language. (Netgalley review)

YA/Children’s

Extreme Blindside by Leslea Wahl. Read my full review.

Earthquake WeatherEarthquake Weather by Kevin Rush

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A coming-of-age story about some young Filipino girls in the San Francisco Bay area; Kristine (age 13) knows her super-smart cousin Jamie’s boyfriend is involved in a gang, but Jamie needs Kristine’s help to see Raul secretly and fixes Kristine up with Fabio — which leads them all into a dangerous situation. I picked this book up when it was recommended in the #CatholicFictionChallenge on Instagram.

Nonfiction

I’ve reviewed the following nonfiction books this winter. Click through to my full reviews:

Living Memento Mori by Emily DeArdo

Giving Thanks and Letting Go by Danielle Bean

Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story by Nancy Ward

Pray Fully by Michele Faehnle and Emily Jaminet


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

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

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

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

open book logo


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: Fall 2019 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 in September and October:

Fiction

All in Good TimeAll in Good Time by Carolyn Astfalk

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Carolyn Astfalk’s novel is packed with relatable characters who aren’t too good to be true, and that’s refreshing in the world of romance novels, where everyone’s young, successful, and great-looking. These characters struggle, and their kids make messes, so it all feels true to life. Melanie, a widow with 3 little kids, meets Brian at her son’s baseball game. Brian has sworn off dating, but he changes his mind after spending some time with Melanie. But his long-kept secret threatens their relationship, and another threat brings danger to the couple as well as Melanie’s kids. A well-told clean romance with just the right amount of suspense — and a twist I didn’t see coming.

Big Lies in a Small TownBig Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Told in split time, this is the story of two artists, both of whom were helped in some way by a recently deceased famous artist. Morgan gets out of jail on parole on the condition that she restore a badly damaged mural in time for a gallery opening. She has a lot to do to put her life back together, but can’t help becoming intrigued by what she can find out about Anna, the mural’s original artist who added disturbing elements to the mural at the last minute. The author intertwines the stories beautifully, with just the right amount of plot twists and suspense. (Netgalley review)

SourdoughSourdough by Robin Sloan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you’ve ever baked with sourdough, this book will make sense. Lois, a Silicon Valley robot programmer in a soulless job, is given a sourdough starter when the immigrants who run a takeout business she patronizes return to Europe. As she learns how to bake with it, she discovers that this starter is alive in ways others are not — and this discovery turns her career on its head. Beautifully written.

The Overdue Life of Amy BylerThe Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An engaging cast of characters populates this novel about a school librarian whose almost-ex reappears after 3 years and wants back into her life. Given the opportunity to visit NY for a professional conference, she heads to the city on a journey of rediscovery.

Appalachian Serenade (Appalachian Blessings, #0.5)Appalachian Serenade by Sarah Loudin Thomas

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Delilah’s return to her hometown as a widow means the end of all her dreams to be a mother. As World War II comes to an end, she settles in the small West Virginia Town and finds a job at the local store, then discovers herself in an unexpected competition for the affections of the storekeeper. A sweet novella about two people suffering different kinds of grief.

The Union Street Bakery (Union Street Bakery #1)The Union Street Bakery by Mary Ellen Taylor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Daisy McCrae, newly unemployed, returns home to rescue her family’s bakery before the business fails, she discovers a few surprises: the ghosts in the attic, the ghost of an old relationship, and the journal she inherits from a former customer who holds the key to the truth about Daisy’s past. A good story, but wrapped up just a little too neatly.

The Schoolhouse: A Hickory Grove NovelThe Schoolhouse: A Hickory Grove Novel by Elizabeth Bromke

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An enjoyable, if totally farfetched, story of second chances. Becky returns to her hometown after nearly 20 years with no idea how she’ll support herself and send money to her son who, improbably, is a student at Notre Dame. Becky wants to purchase a tumbledown schoolhouse on her grandparents’ property and turn it into a bookstore — but has no capital for the project. Enter her high-school sweetheart, who works for the school district and is tasked with arranging for the demolition of that schoolhouse.

My Stubborn HeartMy Stubborn Heart by Becky Wade

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kate takes a sabbatical from her job, where she’s burnt out working in social services for at-risk kids, to help her grandmother restore an old family home and inventory its collection of antiques. Their contractor, a former hockey pro grieving the loss of his wife, seems attracted to her, but is always holding back. Grandma and her friends lend comic relief to the story with their matchmaking attempts. It’s a good read, if a shallow one (everyone’s gorgeous, the contractor is super rich, the old home is filled with ridiculously valuable antiques – none of it’s junk). Definitely falls into the “escape read” category.

Someplace Familiar (Laurel Cove Romance #1)Someplace Familiar by >Teresa Tysinger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Livy returns to her hometown to refurbish a family home and sell an impressive collection of antique furniture, she finds that her grandmother’s friends are busy trying to set her up with the contractor who’s restoring the house. She’s not looking for a relationship, and he’s a former hockey star grieving the loss of his wife. One of those romances where everyone’s successful, wealthy, thin, and gorgeous, but an enjoyable read.

Christmas (It’s never too early!)

The Christmas List (A Girl Called Hoodoo Book 1)The Christmas List by Hillary Ibarra

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nothing lifts the spirits like a Christmas novella, and this one by Hillary Ibarra is one of the best I’ve read. It’s the beautifully told tale, inspired by true events in the author’s life, of a hardworking couple who cannot afford groceries for their family, let alone a festive Christmas meal or gifts for the children. A badly-timed job loss has left the parents stressed, but they make every effort to make Christmas special for their family — and they learn that God does, indeed, care about them.

YA/Children’s

Ella's Promise (Great War Great Love #3)Ella’s Promise by Ellen Gable

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This standalone novel concludes the “Great War Great Love” series, and I’m sorry to see it end. As a whole, the series has been a fascinating look at a time period we don’t read about much. Ella Neumann, the daughter of Germans who emigrated to the USA long before the war, is a volunteer nurse in France. Having been a medical student at home before the war, she hopes her experience will land her a coveted place as a surgical nurse, but her supervisor doesn’t trust her because of her ethnic background, and gives her the least-desired jobs. Ella’s encounter with a prisoner of war and an enemy officer, coupled with her ability to speak German, put her in danger as well as allowing her to help others in unexpected ways. With edge-of-the-seat suspense, the story will captivate teen and adult readers alike. (Advance review copy received from author.)

Gifts: Visible & InvisibleGifts: Visible & Invisible by Susan Peek, Katy Huth Jones, Carolyn Astfalk, Theresa Linden, Leslea Wahl, Cynthia T. Toney, T.M. Gaouette, Corinna Turner, Cathy Gilmore

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

No cartoon characters “saving Christmas” by making sure presents happen, or mistletoe moments with less substance than a snowflake here. These 8 stories entertain and edify the young-adult reader and satisfy that Christmas craving for something more, which can only be fulfilled by Jesus. Each story stands alone, but many are connected to other work by the authors from Catholic Teen Books. (Advance Reader Copy provided by Catholic Teen Books)

Nonfiction

9781627853385

Woman of Worth: Prayers and Reflections for Women Inspired by the Book of Proverbs by Melanie Rigney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An encouraging book for women that underscores their value, no matter what their vocation, age, or state in life. Melanie discusses the virtues behind the ideal woman presented in Proverbs 31. In the Introduction, the author notes, “maybe it was progress that I thought my relationship with Jesus did make me a woman of worth.” In each of these 20 chapters, the author examines a verse or two from Proverbs 31, offering a personal reflection and meditation on the virtue, a brief profile of a saint who is a model of that virtue, three questions for discussion or personal journaling, and a prayer. (Advance review copy provided by author)

When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny PeopleWhen Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People by Jeannie Gaffigan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When you read When Life Gives You Pears, you can expect the medical details, the celebrity bio, and the funny. And you can also expect a powerful testimony of the role faith played in Jeannie Gaffigan’s life and in her recovery. In this book, she candidly shares it all: her fears; the details of her surgery, treatment, and recovery; how the whole experience impacted her outlook on the world; the role faith played in her life before, during, and after her illness.
(Review copy received from publisher)

61 Minutes to a Miracle: The True Story of a Family's Devotion61 Minutes to a Miracle: The True Story of a Family’s Devotion by Bonnie L. Engstrom

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Most people who pick up 61 Minutes to a Miracle already know how the story turns out. But the spoiler in the book’s title won’t ruin the experience of reading Bonnie Engstrom’s riveting story of the miracle that opened the door not only to life for her child but also to the beatification of Fulton J. Sheen.
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!

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

open book logo

#OpenBook: Summer 2019

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 this summer:

Fiction

BecalmedBecalmed by Normandie Fischer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tadie co-owns a successful business, is a jewelry artist in her own right, and has an historic home and a sailboat. She’s loving life, and falling for the widower (and, even more, for his young, smart, independent little girl, Jilly) — but her controlling ex is back in town and wants her back. The ending wraps up way too neatly, but Jilly is a terrific character and deserves her own middle-grade story.

A 5K and a KissA 5K and a Kiss by Maddie Evans

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You don’t have to be a runner to enjoy this novel – all you need is an appreciation for well-written banter and likable characters. Maddie Evans doesn’t put her characters in unrealistic situations: There are no billionaires, no 25-year-olds with their own thriving business bankrolled by their parents’ cash. These people struggle, and their struggles are what the books are about. In this story, Aileen finds help as she grieves the loss of her sister in an unlikely place: the local running club. This is more than a sweet romance – it’s a friendship story, too.

A Tease and a Trail RunA Tease and a Trail Run by Maddie Evans

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great story! Charlotte (Charlie) takes refuge at her aunt’s home in Maine after she breaks her engagement to the guy who’s been cheating on her, only weeks before the wedding. Brandon (a peripheral character in “A 5K and a Kiss” and a childhood friend) helps her get reacquainted with the people in the town she used to visit every summer. As a family crisis diverts Charlie’s attention and a job crisis threatens Brandon’s livelihood — and the sister who depends on his rent — the two begin to fall for each other, but the sudden return of Charlie’s ex threatens to mess everything up. I’m enjoying the members of the running club who populate the books in this series; they’re a terrific community of very diverse people who bicker like siblings but always have each other’s back. (Dare I say I’m jealous of that community they’ve formed?)

The Story Keeper (Carolina Heirlooms, #2)The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Newly hired at her dream publishing job, Jen discovers a piece of a decaying manuscript on her desk — but it’s unsigned, and once she reads it, she knows she has to figure out who’s behind it. Doing so will require that she revisit her home town, a place she’d hoped to leave behind forever. This book contains the chapters of the manuscript that Jen finds in various places, and those are the strongest part of the novel.

The Father's SonThe Father’s Son by Jim Sano

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Boston just after the clergy sex-abuse scandals broke in 2002, a successful businessman works through his own childhood abandonment issues and marital failure with the help of a priest. A lot of moral instruction and apologetics was built into the novel, which clocks in at 441 pages, and that seemed to slow down the advancement of the plot and add an element that was didactic, if not preachy. Recommended for readers struggling with the abuse scandals and Church teaching on marriage.

Where the Fire Falls (Vintage National Parks, #2)Where the Fire Falls by Karen Barnett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Painter Olivia pins her career hopes on a trip to Yosemite, underwritten by a wealthy patron who seeks to control her art. Her protector, National Parks guide Clark must decide if he wants to return to the ministry or if his true calling is as a park ranger. The author masterfully sets the scene in Yosemite, as both Olivia and Clark must deal with their pasts, both victims of other people’s bad choices.

Just One KissJust One Kiss by Courtney Walsh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve enjoyed the other Harbor Pointe stories, so this installment was a welcome read. Carly’s teen son Jaden has begun to turn his life around as he pursues competitive skiing, but health issues threaten to sideline him permanently. Carly, a nurse, puts her professional reputation and career on the line as she advocates for her son.

The Color of a Memory (The Color of Heaven, #5)The Color of a Memory by Julianne MacLean

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Audrey is sure her firefighter husband is a player from the moment they met, but she eventually decides to trust him and marries him. After his line-of-duty death, she meets a mysterious woman who claims to have secrets about her husband, and she once again regrets ever trusting him.

Bridge of Scarlet LeavesBridge of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maddie, a violinist whose brother is serving in World War II, secretly dates Lane, the son of Japanese immigrants. They elope on the eve of the Pearl Harbor attack, and discover that not only has the world changed overnight, but they’re expected to be enemies. Lane’s family is sent to Manzanar, and Maddie gives up her dream of attending Juilliard to follow her husband there.

Sold on a MondaySold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1931, Americans were making impossible choices in order to feed their families. Journalist Ellis Reed spies 2 children seated on a porch under a “children for sale” sign and takes a picture — not meant for publication — that winds up in the paper, leading to unintended consequences for himself, secretary Lillian Palmer, the children in the photo, and two families caught in the middle of unexpected deceptions.

Wildflower Hope (The Wildflower House #2)Wildflower Hope by Grace Greene

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this sequel to Wildflower Heart, Kara struggles to move past her father’s death and renovate the historic home he’d recently purchased into an artists’ retreat. At the same time, she must decide whether she can let go of the guy who’s just moved across the country for his job — and let new love in. Kara is more likable in this book than in the first in the series.

YA/Children’s

Perilous Days (Brave Hearts Book 1)Perilous Days by Kathryn Griffin Swegart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Packed with a cast of actual historical characters, this novel for middle-school readers is not just another Holocaust book. It’s the story of a reluctant young conscript into the Nazi army who discovers that his Catholic faith and Hitler’s philosophies are incompatible, and whose family has to entrust the care of his handicapped brother to a convent in order to protect him from the Nazis’ eugenic policies. Felix finds help in surprising and mysterious ways as he works to rescue wounded soldiers on the battlefield.

Martyrs (Brave Hearts Book 2)Martyrs by Kathryn Griffin Swegart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This historical novel tells the story of Fr. Sebastian Rale, a missionary priest in New England during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. It is a window into a time and place not treated in detail in the history books, and into a real-life missionary whose love for the Lord and conviction about his mission will inspire the reader.
One caveat: this book does contain graphic scenes of war, torture, and martyrdom. It is not for the sensitive reader. It’s labeled for ages 10 to 14, but I’d recommend that parents read it first, for this reason.

Waiting with ElmerWaiting with Elmer by Deanna K. Klingel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Willy, a homeless teenager with a criminal father and his own burden of guilt to bear, winds up in Waitnsee, an unusual town where a man named Elmer mentors him, leading him on a journey of growth, faith, and reconciliation. This book, set in the Depression era, features a wonderful cast of characters, including Father Flanagan of Boys Town.

Nonfiction

All for Her: The Autobiography of Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C.All for Her: The Autobiography of Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C. by Patrick Peyton C.S.C.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Peyton tells his own life story, from humble beginnings in an impoverished Irish town to the founding and development of Family Rosary and Family Theater Productions. I was struck not only by Peyton’s deep faith and his devotion to the Blessed Mother, but also his ability to multitask and get things done long before the internet made instant communication possible. This new edition of Peyton’s 1973 autobiography features larger type plus a foreword and epilogue.

Handy Little Guide to the Holy SpiritHandy Little Guide to the Holy Spirit by Michelle Jones Schroeder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Michelle Schroeder brings humor and a personal touch to her treatment of a topic that’s, let’s face it, kind of mysterious to many of us. This booklet from Our Sunday Visitor is designed to help us both understand and forge a connection to the Holy Spirit. Beginning with a discussion of the Trinity (in non-theological, approachable terms), Michelle notes that we don’t just need to know about the Holy Spirit — we need to know Him (14). That’s true of all three Persons of the Trinity, of course, but making a connection to the Holy Spirit doesn’t always seem as intuitive as connecting to God the Father and Jesus, the Son.
Read my full review. (Review copy received from publisher.)

Day by Day with Saint Faustina: 365 ReflectionsDay by Day with Saint Faustina: 365 Reflections by Susan Tassone

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Susan Tassone, well-known for her other writing on Purgatory, Adoration, and Divine Mercy, has taken St. Faustina’s Diary and made it accessible in a new daily devotional from Sophia Institute Press. This book is a page-per-day devotional that bridges the gap between the spiritual and the practical. While the monthly sections of the book are not organized by theme, Susan’s choice of readings for each day of the year are often informed by the liturgical calendar. Each day’s reflection is made up of three parts: a quote from the Diary, a short reflection (just a few sentences) that’s instructional and also a call to action or sometimes a quote from Scripture, and a simple prayer to wrap it up. Read my full review. Review copy received from publisher.

Fifteen Spirituals That Will Change Your LifeFifteen Spirituals That Will Change Your Life by Henry L. Carrigan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading Fifteen Spirituals That Will Change Your Life is like taking a very specific, self-paced music appreciation course. You’ll gain a deep knowledge of 15 beloved spirituals and a new appreciation of their history and message. This is a book you’ll want to read with music by your side.
Read my full review. Review copy received from publisher.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect TimingWhen: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had no idea there was science behind time management, but it all makes sense thanks to Daniel Pink’s book. He’s gathered research from multiple fields to support conclusions such as: students work better after research (any teacher could have told him this), people generally have 2 creative peak times per day, and singing in a group is good for you. A fascinating book! This is one I’ll want to read again.


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


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: June 2019 Reads

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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 (hint: there’s been a bit of a fiction binge lately).

Fiction

Pearl of Great PricePearl of Great Price by Myra Johnson

A job in the family business in a small town suits Julie Pearl Stiles just fine, but when she realizes she may be at the center of a long-ago tragedy, she begins to wonder about her real identity. This story of suffering, friendship, mental illness, romance, and figuring out one’s place in the world will hook you from the start.

Ever Faithful: A Vintage National Parks Novel (Shadows of the Wilderness)Ever Faithful: A Vintage National Parks Novel by Karen Barnett.

All the local color you could want in a novel. This Depression-era story, set in Yellowstone National Park, sets a vivid scene as backdrop for a blossoming romance between a Brooklyn-born CCC worker and a young local woman working hard to achieve her goal of becoming a teacher. Both are wounded in their own ways. A mystery creates enough intrigue (with plausible red herrings) to keep you reading. I’ll look for more from this author!

The Sisters of Summit AvenueThe Sisters of Summit Avenue by Lynn Cullen

“Two sisters bound together by love, duty, and pain” – from the blurb. SO MUCH PAIN. The pain was overwhelmingly palpable. Ruth and her 4 daughters barely keep the family farm running during the Depression; her husband was felled several years ago by encephalitis lethargica. Her sister June is one of the “Bettys” — women developing recipes and answering letters to Betty Crocker. And their mother Dorothy is practically a recluse, hiding from the secrets of her past. Plenty of plot twists and infidelities, and the split-time story line can get a bit confusing. And then there’s that cheap trope where one of the characters wants to write a book, and you discover that you’re reading the book they’re writing. (Netgalley review; available August 2019.)

The Road She Left BehindThe Road She Left Behind by Christine Nolfi

Old family dramas and a lifetime of hurts caused Darcy, burdened by guilt over an accident that killed her father and sister, to flee her family’s estate, abandoning her sister’s baby, Emerson, to the mother Darcy couldn’t wait to escape. 8 years later, Emerson disappears, and Darcy is called back to her family home to help find the young boy and make amends to the boyfriend she left behind years ago. A good story with great secondary characters.

Like Never Before (Walker Family, #2)Like Never Before by Melissa Tagg

When political speechwriter Logan discovers he’s inherited his hometown newspaper, the last thing he wants to do is follow up on that or deal with the ambitious young editor who wants to take over the paper before it’s sold to a conglomerate. But Amelia is chasing a story that has Logan intrigued, and he finds himself trying to untangle Maple Valley’s longtime unsolved mystery, and falling for Amelia in the process. A light, clean summer read; part of an enjoyable series.

All this Time (Walker Family, #4)All this Time by Melissa Tagg

Bear, haunted by a guilty promise he made after his girlfriend’s death, wants to prove himself to her parents in the mission they founded in Brazil. But he’s charged with the care of his nephew and niece, whose parents’ and grandparents’ drug-trade activities put them in danger. He winds up in Maple Valley, where an old crush invites him to stay with her family until his situation stabilizes.

A Place to Belong (Maple Valley)A Place to Belong by Melissa Tagg

This novella provides some back story about Megan and her shop, Coffee Coffee, in the small town of Maple Valley. When Megan meets Eric, owner of a struggling local halfway house, she’s almost ready to put aside a dangerous infatuation from her past – until her baby’s father returns to town. A bit predictable, but fills in the blanks of some of the other Maple Valley novels.

From the Start (Walker Family, #1)From the Start by Melissa Tagg

First in the Walker Family series, this book sets the scene for the quintessential (and a little bit quirky) small town of Maple Valley. Screenwriter/novelist Kate needs a fresh start after disappointments in love and her career, and when she returns to her hometown, she runs into Colton Greene, a sidelined NFL quarterback who needs someone to write his biography as much as he needs a new direction in life after his injuries.

Sister Mary Baruch: The Early YearsSister Mary Baruch: The Early Years by Jacob Restrick

Rebecca Feinstein is drawn to Catholicism through a friend, and while she’s still a college student, she decides to convert from Judaism and, later, to enter a cloistered Dominican monastery. Various family members react in different ways, but a rift between Rebecca and much of her family continues throughout the novel. It’s a good story, but it reads as if an elderly man were dictating the book to a transcriber. I was not intrigued enough to continue reading the series.

Jane by the BookJane by the Book by Pepper D. Basham

This romance novella features two overly-formal characters thrown together by a 150-year-old mystery. Buttoned-up inkeeper Jane and impulsive novelist Titus are an unlikely pair as they try to track down the story of one of Jane’s ancestors while both visit Bath, England. Meanwhile, Titus writes Jane into his novel — and she suspects he’s using her. Maybe you need to be an Austen fan to appreciate this better, but I was underwhelmed.

The Road to Paradise (Vintage National Parks, #1)The Road to Paradise by Karen Barnett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In an attempt to escape the influence of her controlling boyfriend, Margie takes refuge in Mt. Rainier National Park. Her senator father pulls some strings to secure a place for her, but she chooses a remote, tumbledown cabin in order to be closer to nature. Fighting her own fears of her boyfriend when he follows her to the mountain, Margie also battles a rush to development that would destroy the park’s natural beauty — as well as her attraction for a handsome ranger who doesn’t share her faith.

YA/Children’s

Silver Meadows SummerSilver Meadows Summer by Emma Otheguy

11-year-old Carolina grieves her native Puerto Rico, which her family left so they could join relatives in upstate NY. She feels that her family is leaving their heritage behind, trying to fit in to their new place, but all she wants to do is go home and have everything the way it was. She befriends a girl at day camp, and together they find a tumbledown cabin in the woods, which they fix up as a combination hideout/art studio. But their camp, and their studio, are threatened by real-estate developers, and they don’t think middle-schoolers can do anything to stop it. Enjoyable novel for ages 10 and up.

Lucky Broken GirlLucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar

10-year-old Ruthie, a recent immigrant to New York City from Castro’s Cuba, is just finding her way to fit in when she’s in a terrible car accident that leaves her housebound and in a body cast for months. She endures unimaginable loneliness on top of the severe pain from the accident and surgery. This middle-grade semi-autobiographical novel explores the experience of Jewish-Cuban immigrants in the late 1960s.

Nonfiction

The Catholic Working Mom's Guide to LifeThe Catholic Working Mom’s Guide to Life by JoAnna Wahlund

A practical guide bolstered by real-life honesty. The author speaks from her own experience as a Catholic working mom. There are chapters concentrating on specific concerns of moms with infants and very young children, but much of the advice in this book applied to me as well (a full-time, work-from-home mom of a teenager with a young adult also living at home). It’s a good antidote to the Mommy Wars and encouragement to working moms, whether full-time, part-time, split-shift, or what flavor of work schedule describes yours. Many, MANY plugs for the author’s Facebook group, which came off as a bit self-serving. (ARC received from publisher.)

Live Big, Love Bigger: Getting Real with BBQ, Sweet Tea, and a Whole Lotta JesusLive Big, Love Bigger: Getting Real with BBQ, Sweet Tea, and a Whole Lotta Jesus by Kathryn Whitaker

Not what I expected – and that was a good thing! From the blurb, I thought it would be more of a travelogue of the Whitaker family’s barbecue pilgrimage, and that’s not at all the case. Since I’ve never been to Texas nor had barbecue, I didn’t expect to relate to this book. Instead, I found that it’s full of honest talk from a mom who had to learn the hard way a lesson we all need to learn: perfectionism doesn’t get you anywhere. If you have a quiet place to read and a bottomless glass of sweet tea, you’ll easily read your way through this book in an afternoon, but its lessons will stick with you much longer. (ARC received from publisher; available late August 2019.)

EducatedEducated by Tara Westover

A disturbing memoir of a family that was beyond dysfunctional. The author grew up physically and emotionally isolated from others and was never allowed to attend school. Her mentally ill father and codependent mother created an unstable environment for the family that put themselves and their children in danger on repeated occasions. The author seems to be trying to move toward a place of healing, but frequently backtracks and undercuts some of her statements by introducing competing accounts from others. This book is enormously popular but I don’t see the attraction, unless you’re after a voyeuristic look into a family life affected by mental illness.

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

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

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

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


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: May 2019 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

printed letter bookshopThe Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay. Madeline inherits a struggling bookshop from her aunt Maddie and finds that she has plenty of healing to do as she works to turn the store around. Meanwhile, healing is in order for the store’s two employees, one of whom had gone through a bitter divorce; the other is disconnected from her family. I originally thought this would be a cheap take-off on You’ve Got Mail – but I was very pleasantly surprised. Don’t miss this book!

memory house-hauckThe Memory House by Rachel Hauck. Split-time novels can be challenging reads but Rachel Hauck makes it easy. Beck’s policeman father died on 9/11 and she lost all her childhood memories with him. Pregnant after an ill-considered one-night stand and suspended from her job on the NYPD, Beck learns she’s inherited a home in Florida from a family friend she doesn’t remember either. She gradually learns the story of the widowed Everleigh Applegate as she reconnects with a childhood friend who’s facing his own challenges. Highly recommended.

georgiaGeorgia on Her Mind by Rachel Hauck. Macy finds herself pushed out of her job and dumped by her boyfriend in the same horrible day. She tries to make the best of things with the help of her friends, the “Single Saved Sisters,” and worries about her upcoming high-school reunion. She doesn’t want to return as a failure to her hometown. After several false starts, she finds a way to make it, after all. Believable characters and situation. I really enjoyed this story.

Sweet on YouSweet on You by Becky Wade. Warning: This novel will make you want to eat chocolate. And I’m not talking M&Ms or Hershey Kisses. You may as well visit your favorite candy shop and pick up some of the good stuff right now, before you begin reading. That’s because Britt, the heroine of the novel, owns a gourmet chocolate shop; her family and friends, including Zander, her longtime friend who’s had a longtime crush on her, get to taste-test her creations. Read my full review. (ARC received from publisher)

the waves

The Waves by Amy Matayo. Dillon and Liam, both forced to go on a cruise with Dillon’s family, wind up stranded on a tiny deserted island after Dillon tries to escape her family and goes on an impromptu excursion. The two must find ways to survive as they wait and hope for rescue. Good suspense; a clean and sweet romance.

gold diggerGold Digger: The Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor by Rebecca Rosenberg. Fascinating historical novel about Colorado’s own Gold Rush and the people whose lives were made and ruined in the gold- and silver-mining industry. I was amazed to learn that Baby Doe and many other figures in the novel were real people. The historical scope of the book was impressive, but the characters weren’t very well-developed. Fair warning: the book ends on a cliffhanger — you’ll have to Google what happens to Baby Doe and her family. (Netgalley review)

rumors and promisesRumors & Promises by Kathleen Rouser. Sophie Biddle arrives in a small town with a young child and almost nothing else. Wary of strangers, she settles in to work at a boarding house, hoping no one will figure out that the little girl is not her sister but her daughter — who was conceived in rape — and that her attacker won’t find her. The young minister, who harbors tragic secrets of his own, falls in love with her. I’ll look for more by this author!

YA/Children’s

confessionsConfessions of a Closet Catholic by Sarah Darer Littman. Probably the best book about Catholics written by a non-Catholic I’ve read. Justine’s family is Jewish, but nominally so, and she wants the kind of faith she sees in her friend Mary Catherine’s family. She decides, as only a middle-schooler can, to give up being Jewish for Lent — and immediately regrets it when her beloved grandmother suffers a stroke. Could God be punishing her? Her visit to the confessional is at once hilarious and sweet. A wonderful story of a young girl’s spiritual exploration.

Nonfiction

letter to suffering churchLetter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis by Bishop Robert Barron. Writing in his own name as a Catholic, a priest, and a bishop — and not on behalf of his diocese, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), or the Church as a whole, Bishop Barron reaches out to readers who are wounded and disillusioned. Kindle version is now available for preorder. Read my full review, which contains details on how to order the book in bulk for your parish or program, at CatholicMom.com.

be braveBe Brave in the Scared: How I Learned to Trust God During the Most Difficult Days of My Life by Mary Lenaberg. I binge-read this book in an afternoon. It’s THAT good. Mary Lenaberg is a terrific, honest writer. She does not shy away about discussing the hard stuff, and I give her a lot of credit for sharing her own struggles in order to encourage others. If you have something in your life that you need to grieve and heal from, but you haven’t been able to give yourself permission to do that, this book is for you. (ARC received from publisher)

our lady of charityOur Lady of Charity: How a Cuban Devotion to Mary Helped Me Grow in Faith and Love by Maria Morera Johnson. A beautiful testament to the ways the patroness of Johnson’s native Cuba helped her grow in faith even after she moved with her family to the US. This quick read introduces la virgencita — Our Lady of Charity, the patroness of Cuba. Johnson traces the history of devotion among Cubans to this depiction of Our Lady, a devotion that has continued within the Cuban-American community to this day. Read my full review. (ARC received from publisher)

catholic dad 2Catholic Dad 2: More (Mostly) Funny Stories of Faith, Family, and Fatherhood by Jake Frost. Most of the stories in this book are only two to four pages long — a great length for busy parents to enjoy. I enjoy Jake’s perspective on raising children as a stay-at-home dad, his appreciation for his own mother’s influence in his life, his gentle sense of humor, and his unabashed faith that shines through on every page. (Review copy received from the author)

Love laughter living saintsLove, Laughter and Living Saints by Rev. Charles Cummings. Clearly a storyteller at heart, Fr. Cummings notes that some of the stories in this book have made their way into his homilies over his 50 years as a priest. From vignettes of his childhood to seminary stories and tales of the joys and challenges of life as a parish priest, this short book comprises 70 stories in addition to Father Cummings’ own vocation story, which serves as the introduction to the book. These stories clearly depict the author’s care for his family and his parishioners, and his servant’s heart. (Review copy received from the author)

library bookThe Library Book by Susan Orlean. Ostensibly the true-crime story of a 1986 arson fire in the main branch of the Los Angeles library, this book was less about the crime and more about the history of the LA Library system, its iconic building, and the people who have worked there. If you’re a big reader and user of libraries, and if you’ve ever worked in a library, you’ll be fascinated by the inside baseball you’ll find here. If you want to know who set the fire, don’t even bother. Also note: this author is openly anti-religion and particularly anti-Catholic, so keep this in mind while reading.


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

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

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

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


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: April 2019 Reads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

open book logo

 


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz