On Barb’s Bookshelf: Advent 2019 Devotionals, plus Prayer Books and Journals

Advent 2019 Devotionals plus Prayer Books and Journals (FranciscanMom.com)
Image credit: By Daria Shevtsova (2018), Unsplash.com, CC0/PD. Text added by author.

With Advent only one short month away, this is the perfect time to choose a new devotional, prayer book, or journal. Whether you’re looking for a seasonal booklet or something you can use year ’round, there are plenty of new options available. Here are some of my new favorites.

Advent Devotionals

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The Living Gospel: Daily Devotions for Advent 2019 (Ave Maria Press) was penned by four Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart. Keep your Bible handy as you read these devotions, each based on the Gospel reading for the day. After a short reflection on the Gospel, the writers offer concrete ways to live the message they find in Scripture. Each day’s entry ends with a brief prayer. Don’t skip the Introduction — it’s a wonderfully encouraging set of tips that we can all use as we ponder how to keep a spiritual focus in an increasingly secular season.

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Let the Heavens be Glad Advent Devotions: Inspiration from Henri J.M. Nouwen (Creative Communications for the Parish). The Advent reflections in this booklet are not based on the Scriptures for the day, but instead begin with excerpts from some of Nouwen’s inspirational writings. Following these are short reflections and prayers. This booklet would work well for individual prayer, or it could be used by a married couple or prayer group.

Daily Devotionals

There’s no law that says you must begin reading a daily devotional on January 1! Jump on in anytime — just flip to the current date and begin from there. Both of these are gift-quality books.

Jesus Speaking

Jesus Speaking: Heart to Heart with the King by Gabrielle Bossis (Pauline Books & Media). This is one of those devotionals that’s as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside. The hardcover book is a beautiful teal color embossed with the title and an image of the Sacred Heart. And I don’t know what kind of paper this cover is made of, but it’s so smooth and almost soft in my hands. A built-in gold ribbon bookmark will help you keep your place. Do you think you don’t have time for a daily devotional? You can definitely manage this one. Each day’s reflection is only a few short sentences long, beginning with a verse or two from Scripture and ending with a prayer prompt.

who do you say that I am cover

Who Do You Say I Am? Daily Reflections on the Bible, the Saints, and the Answer that is Christ by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan (Image Books) is a full-size hardcover with a one-page (often a full page) reflection per day, beginning with a Scripture verse. I enjoy Cardinal Dolan’s down-to-earth style; he writes like he speaks. The tone is never academic, complicated, or stuffy. Last week on his radio show, Conversations with Cardinal Dolan, the Cardinal noted that the book is made up of excerpts from homilies, speeches, and columns — all of which he wrote himself, because he feels uneasy preaching or teaching in someone else’s words. I confess: I have a hard time putting this book down after reading only one reflection. It’s a wonderful mix of personal stories, deep devotion, meditations on the Gospels, saintly inspirations, and nuggets of historical facts. (And if you love the Rosary, you’ll see it coming up again and again in this book!)

Prayers, Retreats, and a Journal

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Melanie Rigney’s Woman of Worth: Prayers and Reflections for Women Inspired by the Book of Proverbs (Twenty-Third Publications) is 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. This book would make a wonderful Advent spiritual read. I read it, a bit at a time, in the Adoration Chapel.

abide in the heart of christ

Take a DIY retreat for Advent — or before Advent — based on St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. Joe Laramie, SJ, has put together a 10-day personal retreat in Abide in the Heart of Christ (Ave Maria Press). “You and I may feel intimidated by these spiritual giants,” the author notes, “but they can become great models for us because they help us to realize that God works through our spiritual talents and abilities” (68). You can do the retreat in a single 10-day span, or pick one day per week for 10 weeks, or whatever combination works for you: it’s designed “to help busy people grow closer to Christ” (7).

holy angels

Holy Angels Prayer Book is the latest in the Catholic Treasury series from Pauline Books & Media. This small prayer book, like the others in the series, boasts a leatherette cover, gilt-edged pages, and a bound-in ribbon bookmark. I had no idea there were so many ways to pray for the intervention of the angels! There’s even a Rosary of the Angels, novenas to each Archangel and to the Guardian Angels, chaplets, and individual prayers. For those interested in learning more about the angels, there’s even a handy list of Scripture references to angels. This purse-sized book would make a beautiful gift.

my real story journal

Another excellent gift (or gift-to-yourself) book is Becky Thompson’s new journal, My Real Story: One Year to Record, Reflect, and Remember (WaterBrook Press). This undated keepsake journal can be started at any time. It offers a modern, bullet journal feel, with both dot-grid and ruled pages. Throughout the book are some journal prompts and anecdotes, plus pages with three different headings:

  • To be honest, this is how I really feel today
  • For the record, these are the moments I don’t want to forget
  • Give thanks in all circumstances: 3 things I’m thankful for today

This pretty journal offers plenty of room to reflect on how God is working in your life, even in the little things.

Advent 2019 Devotionals plus Prayer Books and Journals (FranciscanMom.com)
Image credit: By Daria Shevtsova (2018), Unsplash.com, CC0/PD

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given free review copies of these books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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

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

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

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

our lady of charity

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

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

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

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


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: My Queen, My Mother

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

My Queen, My Mother by Marge Fenelon (Ave Maria Press) is more than simply a novena of prayers: it’s a pilgrimage memoir, travel guidebook, and prayer book all in one. Fenelon leads the reader on a journey around the USA, visiting nine holy shrines to the Blessed Mother and sharing what makes each a unique and worthwhile place to visit and pray.

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

my queen my mother

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

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

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


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Last Call for Lenten Reading

Last call
Image credit: Pixabay.com (2018), CC0/PD. Modified by author.

With less than a week to go before Lent, it’s time to finalize your spiritual reading plans. My bookshelf is packed with recent releases, and any of these eight books are worthwhile choices for Lent.

called

Begin this one now, and you’ll finish by Holy Week: Called by Kevin Cotter (Ave Maria Press). Subtitled “Becoming an everyday disciple in a post-Christian world,” this book is designed to focus on how Jesus proclaimed the gospel and to inspire others to do the same. What does it mean to be a disciple? How do we live that life? Most days, entries are three pages long, which is an easy enough commitment. You’ll find fascinating background information that will help you understand the gospel better. A reflection question ends each day’s entry. The approach is tied into a program the author recommends, Alpha for Catholics, a faith study based on a model developed by Protestants. Readers will learn to look at everything in their lives and ask, “Does this help me follow Jesus?”

remember your death

Designed to be read day by day during Lent, Remember Your Death: Memento Mori Lenten Devotional by Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, fsp (Pauline Books & Media) was a surprise to me. I was afraid that all this talk of death would feel really morbid — but that’s not the case at all. It’s at once challenging, comforting, and hopeful. Memento mori reminds us why we live, and the power we have through Baptism to live for God. I confess that I opened this book and started reading and didn’t stop until I’d gone through almost a week’s worth of reflections. (Then I figured I’d better save some for Lent!)

this is our faith

Are you looking for a refresher course on the Faith? Michael Pennock’s This Is Our Faith: A Catholic Catechism of Adults (Ave Maria Press), newly revised and updated, is an excellent book to read through the season. I’ve done the math for you: read only 9 pages per day and you’ll be finished before Easter! Each chapter begins with a story or reflection, then follows a question-and-answer format to lead readers through an in-depth presentation on each of the four pillars of the Catechism: the Profession of Faith; celebration of the sacraments, liturgy, and the Paschal Mystery; life in Christ (foundations of morality); and Christian prayer.

strangeness of truth

Leave The Strangeness of Truth around for your teenager to find. Father Damian J. Ference’s new book (Pauline Books & Media) has a cover that reminds me of vintage sci-fi novels (and is even designed to appear scarred and well-worn) but there’s no fiction here — just a dynamic use of the power of story to bring home the mysteries of God’s love in our lives and our world. Fr. Ference explains in the preface that each chapter of the book builds upon the next, so it’s best read from start to finish, and even better if read with a friend. Chapters are short and each include a story at the beginning and another at the end, plus some explanation of the chapter’s topic and (sometimes) the story of a saint whose life fits in with that topic.

jesus and jewish roots of mary

Take a new look at the Blessed Mother as you read Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary by Brant Pitre (Image Books). Learn what the Bible says about Mary, what early Christians believed about her, and how our Catholic beliefs about Mary are rooted in ancient Jewish tradition. This book is great for anyone with a devotion to the Blessed Mother as well as for people who want to deepen their understanding of her role in salvation history.

Two new additions to the Catholic Treasury series from Pauline Books & Media are perfect for devotional prayer at home or in the Adoration Chapel. Mary, Mother of God Prayer Book by Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, fsp, and Eucharistic Adoration Prayer Book by Sr. Marie Paul Curley, fsp, are both beautiful, gift-quality books that are small enough to tuck into your handbag and bring to the chapel (or to read anywhere). Sturdy leatherette covers with gold embossing, gold-edged pages, and ribbon bookmarks complement the simple design of the books, which are filled with basic prayers such as the Mysteries of the Rosary, various novenas, and litanies, in addition to original meditations.

fourth cup

Lent (and particularly Holy Week) is an excellent time to meditate on the Last Supper and Jesus’ Passion and death. In The Fourth Cup (Image Books), Dr. Scott Hahn explains the connections between the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the ancient Jewish rituals of Passover. If you’re interested in exploring the Passover references throughout the Old and New Testaments, this book details how everything fits together and even informs the way we celebrate Mass.


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Holy Hacks

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Part of my own collection of holy tools: San Damiano cross, statue of Our Lady of Fatima, rosary, Holy Hacks book, statue of St. Michael the Archangel, holy water, and statue of St. Philomena (to remind me to pray for a child in my family who is sick). Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

My name is Barb, and I’m addicted to tips. Hand me a magazine and I’ll flip through to any helpful-hints article I can find. I have (physical and virtual) folders filled with cooking tips, tricks for kitchen organization, and strategies for keeping the laundry clean. And that’s before you count in the hacks I’ve been collecting lately, all related to making sure my teenager, who has type 1 diabetes, stays as healthy as possible.

Patti Maguire Armstrong’s new book fills in a gap in my tips-and-tricks collection, a gap I didn’t even realize was there. Holy Hacks: Everyday ways to live your faith & get to heaven (Ave Maria Press) is packed with hundreds of do-able ways to grow in holiness.

holy hacks

The author has done her research far and wide: from family customs to papal encyclicals (as far back as the 15th century!) to her own friends to Catholics in the media to Scripture and the saints and more, Patti Maguire Armstrong’s collection of tips truly has something for everyone.

Think of it as a cookbook. You don’t thumb through the pages feeling overwhelmed because you don’t have time to make every recipe. Instead, you find things that grab your attention, things that you would like to make. The key is to do everything in love, for and with Jesus, and in his name. (5-6)

Since I love to cook, I found this comparison spot-on. While it’s fine to read Holy Hacks from start to finish, you might get more out of it if you start at chapter 1, then skip around to the sections you feel you most need at the moment. Like your favorite cookbook, this handbook should be easy to reach when you need it for quick reference.

This book is filled with tips, but it’s not simply bullet point after bullet point. Sections of tips are interspersed with introductions of the people whose tips are offered here, explanations of virtue, and information about Catholic practices, which makes for fascinating reading.

Here’s a sampling of tips, one from each chapter, that I’ve already found myself doing or want to do more:

Chapter 1: Living the Holy Hack Life

Multitask with inspirational music, podcasts, or Catholic radio while folding laundry and doing other mundane tasks.

I’m on it! I particularly enjoy the Catholic Momcast, Among Women with Pat Gohn, Girlfriends with Danielle Bean, and Clerically Speaking.

Chapter 2: Holy Hacks for Humility

Resolve to compliment at least one person every day. Especially compliment people in conversation with others when they aren’t even present.

I have a friend who is fabulous at this; it seems to be in her nature never to leave a conversation without complimenting someone. I definitely want to follow her example.

Chapter 3: Hacks for Holy Relationships

Sacrifice your own preferences for someone else’s.

(This one would build humility too, I think!)

Chapter 4: Holy Prayer Hacks

Sing a hymn.

I do this! Singing is one of my favorite ways to pray.

Chapter 5: Holy Hacks for Spiritual Protection

Use prayers of spiritual protection such as St. Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer and the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel.

I would like to memorize St. Patrick’s Breastplate this year. I already keep a little St. Michael statue on my desk to remind me to pray that prayer at least once a day (he’s pictured above).

Chapter 6: Holy Hacks for Evangelizing

Use social media not only to send messages and articles but also to engage with people. On Facebook, don’t unfriend people with anti-Catholic views. Ask them questions, express your views calmly, and pray for them. Be respectful and insist on the same.

Do the people who follow you on social media know you’re Catholic? Are you witnessing for the faith on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? I love these tips for using those platforms in a positive way.

Chapter 7: Holy Hacks Against Gossip

Before you open your mouth to gossip, stop and imagine you were the subject of the news you are tempted to reveal.

What a great strategy, and one you can also teach to your children.

Chapter 8: Holy Hacks from Catholics in the Media

I keep a little notebook on my nightstand for prayer requests and then ask Our Lady every morning to intercede “for all the intentions in my notebook.” When I run out of space, I buy a new one and on the first line write, “All of the intentions in my previous notebooks.” (Susan Brinkmann, OCDS, of Women of Grace)

Terrific tip! I have been looking for a way to organize prayer intentions and this seems perfect. I particularly like that you don’t have to have some kind of perfect system. You just start right now, and keep on going.

Chapter 9: Holy Hacks for Lent

Abstain from something at each meal. It could be mustard on your sandwich, the main course, French fries, salad dressing … just something that is a sacrifice. St. Francis de Sales advised people never to leave the table without having refused themselves something.

This is a great example of those little, silent sacrifices that can add up. I’d add: offer the sacrifice for a particular prayer intention.

Chapter 10: Holy Hacks for Christmas, Easter, and Other Holidays

Don’t put baby Jesus in the manger until Christmas morning.

We do this, and always have!

Who should read this book?

Anyone! Holy Hacks will inspire people with families as well as singles, and most tips are appropriate for people of any age.
Barb's Book shelf blog title


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Four for Lent

It’s almost Lent: time to take a look at this year’s newest resources, including one newly re-released gem you can use the whole year long.

One for the Family

With Our Savior
Families with school-age children will enjoy Claire McGarry’s With Our Savior: Family Devotions for Lent. Each day begins with a line or two from Scripture, followed by a short reflection: sometimes a story with a message, sometimes a vignette about a famous person, sometimes an explanation of something from the Bible. A one-sentence prayer focuses on the meat of the story. Finally, there’s an action item, ranging from questions to spark conversation at the dinner table to prompts for works of mercy the family can do together. This inexpensive 48-page booklet is available directly from the publisher, Creative Communications for the Parish, and on Kindle.

One for Your Teen

lent one day at a time

Give your teenagers their own devotional. Katie Prejean McGrady and Tommy McGrady’s Lent: One Day at a Time for Catholic Teens (Ave Maria Press) starts out with a scenario we can all relate to: that absent-minded way we break out “Lenten resolution” only one week in. Leading off with this story allows the McGradys to remind the reader that Lent doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing kind of thing, but is instead supposed to be a time when we can re-center our lives: on Jesus.
Each Sunday offers a challenge for the week and suggestions for making it happen, as well as a Gospel reflection, journal prompt (and space to write right there in the booklet), and short prayer. Journal prompts for the rest of the week will require a separate journal; each Saturday the week wraps up with an examination of conscience of sorts, based on the challenge from the Sunday before. It’s an easy-to-use book and inexpensive enough to purchase for a whole class or youth group.

One for the Worrier (like me!)

give up worry for Lent
Gary Zimak makes no secret about the fact that he’s a worrier, which makes him the perfect person to write encouraging books for other people who worry too. New from Ave Maria Press, Give Up Worry for Lent: 40 Days to Finding Peace in Christ is a devotional for people who make a habit of worrying. I appreciate that Gary never takes the tactic that if only you trusted God more, you magically wouldn’t experience anxiety anymore. He does talk about trust, but in a way that encourages the reader instead of dismissing their suffering.
Each day’s reflection begins with a short Scripture passage; following this, there’s a reflection (about a page long), an area called “Respond” with a spiritual action item, often including a way to turn around the tendency to worry or be anxious and instead, turn to God. A short prayer wraps up the day’s section.

One for the Whole Year

Around-the-Year
Lenten devotionals are wonderful, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Maria von Trapp’s re-released Around the Year with the von Trapp Family in my list of Lenten must-reads. With this one, your best bet is to start reading it early, because it’s a guide on living the liturgical year, and in many parts of the world, that includes Carnival! Learn about the Old World customs that you can import into your family life. As you move into the Lenten season, read about Maria’s spiritual-reading program, a discussion of fasting and society’s motives for fasting (which reads like something written in 2019, not 1955!), and other Lenten practices.
Around the Year is a book you’ll want to keep handy the whole year long: it’s packed with recipes, descriptions of and historical information about customs, family stories, and even hymns and folk songs – with music! Sophia Institute Press has packaged this book as a beautiful hardcover with lovely touches and simple illustrations. (And if you’re a Sound of Music fan, this is definitely not to be missed.)

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given free review copies of these books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Journal Options for the New Year

Journal Options for the New Year

Do you keep a journal, or have you resolved to start journaling this New Year? I’ve road-tested several options for you, including two journals that you can use with your children. Journals make great last-minute gifts, too!

For You

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CatholicMom’s own Allison Gingras created the “Stay Connected” Journal series (GraceWatch Media) this year and authored the first of the three journals from the series that have already been released. If a full-year blank journal is overwhelming, try these short journals: Each is designed to be used over the course of seven weeks and can be used individually or in a group setting. They’re pretty journals, printed on quality paper, and the line drawings throughout can be used for coloring if you wish.

Allison wrote The Gift of Invitation: 7 Ways Jesus Invites You to a Life of Grace, which examines seven powerful ways Jesus extends invitations to you and leads you to examine how each invitation plays out in your own life. The second journal in the series, by Tiffany Walsh, focuses on one of my favorite topics: reading! Exploring the Catholic Classics: How Spiritual Reading Can Help You Grow in Wisdom introduces seven spiritual writers: Thomas á Kempis, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis de Sales, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), St. John Paul II, and Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade. Deanna Bartalini’s journal finishes out the series and is titled Invite the Holy Spirit into Your Life: Growing in Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control. This journal will help you open your heart to what the Holy Spirit can do in your life.

Catholic journaling Bible

The Catholic Journaling Bible (Our Sunday Visitor and Blessed is She) is the full Catholic Bible, the New American Bible, Revised Edition, so you’ll read the same translation of Scripture you hear at Mass. The outer margins of each page in this Bible offer faintly-ruled lines for writing. I begin my day with this Bible; right now I’m praying over the daily Gospel and then jotting down a few thoughts. Occasionally you’ll find a page with a hand-lettered verse: If you’re artistic, you might want to embellish that page. This Bible is a high-quality hardcover book with a linen cover and elegant design.

above all

Above All by Elizabeth Foss (To Take Up and Read) is a beautifully presented Lenten lectio divina journal. It’s based on Colossians 3:12-17 and combines original art and essays with Scripture readings and meditations — and offers plenty of space for you to write your own thoughts. This is a slightly oversized book, at 7×10 inches. To Take Up and Read has also produced many other journals for other times of year.

For You and the Kids

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Side by Side: A Catholic Mother-Daughter Journal by Lori and Ava Ubowski (Ave Maria Press) was written by a mom and her tween daughter and is a fun way for moms and young girls to bond. Each page contains writing prompts that invite users of the journal to share their thoughts and their faith while they learn about virtue through the example of biblical women and the saints. (ARC received from publisher)

daily question for you and your child

The Daily Question for You and Your Child (WaterBrook) is more of a conversation starter than a journal; at one page for two people’s answers for three years in a row, each person will only get to write a sentence each time. But the questions are a lot of fun. This journal would be good to use at the dinner table to spark an interesting discussion, or anytime parents and kids have some down time together. I’d recommend this for use with children 8 and up. (ARC received from publisher)

What’s a new journal without new pens to go with it? Here are a few of my favorites:


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given free review copies of books where indicated, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Reads for Moms with Resolutions

Reads for Moms with Resolutions

It’s almost THAT time of year. And I’m not talking about Christmas. I’m talking about that post-Christmas time when we have time off work and some extra mental space to consider our goals, practices, and routines.

I don’t know about you, but I need that space every now and again to evaluate how things are going, and what I can tweak. I naturally live in problem-solving mode, and it’s good to use that mode regarding my home life and my spiritual life. So while I’ve got the planner and the brain-dump notebook and the colored markers in front of me anyway, adding some books that inspire me to think outside the box I’ve painted myself into is always a welcome practice.

Make My Life Simple

make my life simple

I started reading Rachel Balducci’s work at least a dozen years ago, but social media (and lack of Google Reader) distracted me from keeping up with most of the blogs I used to follow. Sure, I catch her on Instagram, when I remember to check Instagram … so I had totally missed that she’d made a huge life change after anxiety and exhaustion caught up with her as she pursued (simultaneously) careers in teaching, writing, and speaking while raising 6 kids. That’s a lot to juggle, no matter how multitalented you are.

Make My Life Simple, published by Our Sunday Visitor, hits the sweet spot of memoir/tip book combination: it’s practical and encouraging without talking down to the reader. And speaking of talking, if you’ve caught Rachel on Instagram Stories or The Gist, you know what her voice sounds like, and you’ll read this book to yourself in her lovely Southern accent. Rachel describes what she took on, and why, and what she decided to do about it when it all became too much.

Three sections focus on practical peace (order within the home), personal order, and peace and order in our spiritual growth. This is not a long book, but you’ll want to spend a while reading it so you can let ideas sink in, or scribble in your notebook about it. I loved that this book didn’t focus solely on moms with young children. My two oldest are older than Rachel’s kids, and my youngest is 16, so I was glad to see that this book wasn’t directed exclusively to the booster-seat-and-diaper-bag moms. It doesn’t matter what age your kids are — you’ll find inspiration in this book.

I was so inspired, at one point, that I put the book down and decided to go around cleaning baseboards (read the book and you’ll understand). So I broke out the small canister vacuum, which is something primarily used by the kids when my husband assigns them to vacuum out his car. Figuring the bag hadn’t been changed in a while, I opened up the vacuum to discover that someone had been using it without a bag in it at all! So I got to clean my vacuum before I could clean my baseboards. But it is a testament to the power of this book that it got me to put the book down and go clean something.

I’m going to do something else I never do, and that’s share a quote from the last page (because I’m confident that this is not a spoiler.)

Keeping your bathroom clean can make you a saint.

The Grace of Enough

grace of enough

Haley Stewart’s book got a lot of press because people made much of the fact that she lived for a year on a farm with only a composting toilet. I want to say right up front that I was curious about that too (because “roughing it” for me still involves functional indoor plumbing) but this book is not a back-to-nature memoir, and you’re doing Haley and her book a disservice by making that assumption.

The Grace of Enough: Pursuing less and living more in a throwaway culture, from Ave Maria Press, challenges readers to embrace simplicity in a way that works for them. We can’t all move to sustainable farms and raise our own chickens. We can all make big and small changes regarding how we pray, how much stuff we own, and how we spend our time. We can all find ways to savor family life, even if our husbands commute 50 miles each way instead of just down the road.

I particularly enjoyed the sections on gospel living, family dinner, and holy hospitality. You’ll also find encouragement in the areas of community-building, technology use, nurturing a love for the land, and choosing hope — among many other topics. It’s the perfect time of year to consider these factors in relation to your family life!

And yes, you’ll learn how Haley, her husband, and their three small children fared with only a composting toilet in their apartment for a whole year. But don’t let social media sell this book short: it’s not really about the toilet at all.


This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given free review copies of these books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: 5 Advent Devotionals

Before you say, “It’s too early to start thinking about Advent!” I’d invitee you to take a look around any craft store, gift shop, and warehouse club and notice all the Christmas merchandise that’s been on the shelves for at least a month. Advent begins December 2, and the best way to enjoy a peaceful liturgical season is to do a little prep work ahead of time.

The authors and editors from Ave Maria Press have been putting together Advent resources for months now. I had the chance to peek into five of these, each with a different focus.

sacred reading adventSacred Reading for Advent and Christmas by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network. This book for Advent and Christmas is always a favorite. It’s a 96-page paperback that offers the daily Gospel reading and a walk through a lectio divina exercise for the day, from the First Sunday of Advent through Epiphany (celebrated this year on January 6). After you read the Gospel, you are prompted to notice what you think and feel as you read, pray as you are led for yourself and others, listen to Jesus, and ask God to show you how to live today. In the instructions for using the book, the authors note,

One of the ways we can better understand and respond to the Lord during this holy season of Advent is by rediscovering, along with Christians all over the world, a powerful, ancient form of prayer known as sacred reading (lectio divina). What better way to deepen one’s friendship with Jesus Christ, the Word of God, than by prayerfully encountering him in the daily gospel?

sacred reading 2019Sacred Reading: The 2019 Guide to Daily Prayer by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network is set up in the same way: it’s the full-year version of Sacred Reading for Advent and Christmas. This easy-to-use prayer guide is appropriate for teens and adults and provides a wonderful way to enter into the spirit of each day’s gospel readings. The book also includes the Pope’s monthly prayer intentions, so you can unite your prayers with those of the universal Church for those special intentions each month. I have used the books in this series for several years and was honored to endorse this year’s edition; the full-year version isn’t too big to be portable (and as with the Advent book, an ebook version is also available).

gaze upon JesusGaze Upon Jesus: Experiencing Christ’s Childhood through the Eyes of Women, edited by Kelly Wahlquist, is a six-week scripture study that focuses on Jesus’ infancy and early years. This is a unique devotional that blends Bible-inspired fiction, sacred art, personal narratives, and scripture reflections. Gaze Upon Jesus can be used by individuals as well as prayer groups or book clubs. Contributors to this book include authors from WINE (Women in the New Evangelization): Alyssa Bormes, Sarah Christmyer, Mary Healy, Maria Morera Johnson, Stephanie Landsem, Elizabeth Lev, Joan Lewis, Deborah Savage, Kelly Wahlquist, Katie Warner, and Carol Younger.

At the beginning of the book you’ll find several pages of beautiful, full-color art reproductions (of varying styles) that accompany certain readings in the book. In the Introduction, editor Kelly Wahlquist observes,

Jesus always looks at you with love. He has fixed his gaze on you. The question is, have you fixed your gaze on him?

Gazing upon Jesus and receiving his gaze changes our lives. It allows us to feel his burning love for us. It heals our hearts and enkindles in us a burning desire for a relationship with God. (3)

living gospel daily reflections adventThe Living Gospel: Daily Devotions for Advent 2018 by Greg Kandra is a series of reflections by a journalist and deacon who writes in a down-to-earth style. Each day’s entry is a page or two in length; scripture references for the day’s readings are included (bring your own Bible). The reflections provide plenty of food for thought (or journaling), and there are action items/resolutions and a prayer to close out each day’s entry.

We get some idea of the daring that life involves as we begin the season of Advent. Whether we realize it or not, we’re embarking on an adventure of our own.

word made fleshWord Made Flesh: A Companion to the Sunday Readings (Cycle C) by Christopher West looks at the Cycle C Sunday readings through the lens of Theology of the Body. (This is not specifically an Advent book, but as this Advent begins the Cycle C readings, that’s the right time to begin reading Word Made Flesh.) The meditation for each Sunday is only about two pages long, which is perfect when you’re pressed for time. West notes in the introduction that it can guide your prayer after Communion, or you can read the day’s readings and this commentary in advance of Sunday Mass to “help you enter into the treasures of that day’s liturgy.”

5 for Advent


This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given free review copies of these books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Summer Reading from Ave Maria Press

New Summer Reading AVE

Leave some room in your summer relaxation plans for one of these new spiritual books from Ave Maria Press. They’re all helpful in your spiritual journey, and they’d all make excellent gifts for recent high-school or college graduates or teen Confirmandi. Lightweight enough to bring along on a vacation getaway, these four books are far from light on their spiritual message. These books will nourish your soul and bless your summer reading.

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

Destination happiness is a mentality that says, “When I reach a certain point in life, I will be happy.” … These achievements can be good things and can bring joy to our lives; but they don’t bring us lasting fulfillment in themselves.

When we seek happiness by reaching a destination, we set our sights on the mirage that is ahead of us and not on the reality that exists, which is God. The destination we were created for is God alone. And finding our meaning in who God made us to be is the only paradise that will satisfy our longing. (38-39)

followKatie Prejean McGrady’s Follow: Your Lifelong Adventure with Jesus invites young Catholics to get to know Jesus in practical ways. But it’s not for young Catholics only! There are only four chapters, but they’re comparatively long ones, divided into sections of a few pages each. These four chapters cover four important ways to build a relationship with Jesus: prayer, Scripture, sacraments, and service. There’s a lot of information in this book: the chapter on prayer, for example, includes the Litany of Humility, a list of all the mysteries of the Rosary, and extensive coverage of various ways to pray. McGrady also tells stories to illustrate her points, and the tales of dating her husband, evacuating before a hurricane, and meeting a homeless man while stuck in a freeway traffic jam are engaging and appropriate.

On the one hand, the steps on our journey to meeting Jesus in a personal, authentic way seem remarkably challenging. At the start of what looks like an endless, uphill climb, it may seem like we’re trying to scale Mount Everest with nothing more than a light jacket and a pair of sneakers. On the other hand, we’re reminded that there’s always a first step to climbing even the tallest mountain. On the journey of coming to know Jesus, step one is to simply communicate with him the same way you would chat with a classmate, email a teacher, text a friend, yell at your parents, cry to your sister, vent to your boyfriend or girlfriend, or laugh with your teammates. (1-2)

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

How is the Psalter [the book of Psalms] a book about living according to God’s law?

The answer is this: the life according to God’s law is a life of prayer and worship! God’s laws really aim to guide us into a relationship with him. And the Psalter shows us how to live that relationship with him at every moment in whatever mood or situation we find ourselves, whether happy or sad, whether in success or defeat. There is always a psalm that fits your mood, whatever it may be, and that you can pray back to God in the situation you find yourself in.

The Psalter shows us how to walk according to God’s law in an indirect way. (51)

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

Bravery is the main component required for living as a young woman of faith in our world today. If you want to live virtue and proclaim a wholehearted faith in your words, and actions, you have to be bold. You have to be brave. … It is not easy to choose faith continually, and it is challenging to live the bravery that our faith requires of us. (xiii)


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of these books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.