#Open Book: December 2018 Reads

open book logo

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

Christmas

where treetops glistenWhere Treetops Glisten by Tricia Goyer, Cara Putman, and Sarah Sundin: three linked Christmas romance novellas set during World War II. This was a lovely series with nearly-seamless storytelling; you couldn’t really tell that different authors were behind the three stories. Set in Lafayette, Indiana, these stores span several wartime Christmases and focus on the three Turner siblings and how the war has changed their lives.

designs on loveDesigns on Love by Myra Johnson. Unlike Johnson’s other books that I’ve recently read, this novella is a post-Civil-War tale set (mostly) in Texas. Vera leaves Philadelphia, where she’s studying fashion design, to return to her rural home town when she learns her family has succumbed to yellow fever. Ready and willing to help Vera pick up the pieces of her broken heart and failing family business is ranch hand Jacob, who’d had a crush on Vera since their school days.

perfect giftThe Perfect Gift by Elaine Manders. Macy, a pharmaceutical student about to graduate and take a job in a famous firm, is dating the boss’s son but has a secret: she’s not the society girl she pretends to be. She knows she needs to confess the truth before Christmas, but she also wants to give her boyfriend a gift that will convince his parents that she’s the right girl for him.

Fiction

hidden legacyThe Hidden Legacy by Carrie Sue Barnes. This story is told through the reminiscences of Annie, who leaves her Boston home and fiancé during World War I to serve as a nurse in France. She recounts her adventures to her granddaughter during her final illness — shedding light on a family secret that shocks Laurel, whose own love life is in turmoil as a new relationship is endangered by the return of an old flame.

her sisters shoes

Her Sister’s Shoes (Sweeney Sisters #1) by Ashley Farley. This is the first in a series, but I felt as if I’d missed some back story. Three sisters struggle to keep a family business afloat and keep their eyes on their mom, who shows signs of dementia, while each dealing with family crises of their own: an unfaithful husband, an abusive husband, and a depressed wheelchair-bound son. It was a LOT all at once.

children of main streetThe Children of Main Street by Merilyn Howton Marriott. Psychotherapist Katie Collier hadn’t planned on working with kids, but it always seems to turn out that way. Meanwhile, she and her husband grieve her infertility. When Katie begins letting some of the most broken, at-risk children stay in their home, her marriage begins to crumble. While I had questions about the ethical implications of some of Katie’s practices, I enjoyed the story.

it was mineIt was Mine by Jeanne Grunert. This novella is a George Bailey story that begins with a Twilight-Zone scene: Stanley, who’d given up an ambitious life plan to care for his aging parents, is a beloved retired teacher in his community. The ancient furnace his father installed in the family home is on the fritz, and Stanley meets a man posing as the furnace repairman who offers him the opportunity to find out what his life would have been like had he abandoned his family and followed his dreams. It’s not at all spooky, and the twist at the end is not to be missed.

keeping lucyKeeping Lucy by T. Greenwood. Her rich in-laws expect perfection, so when Ginny’s baby is born with Down Syndrome, the family whisks the child off to an institution. Two years later (1969), Ginny learns that this school is under investigation for mistreatment of the residents, and goes there to see for herself. She and her best friend Marsha wind up taking Lucy from the institution, then taking off to Florida with the toddler and Ginny’s six-year-old while they desperately try to figure out how to protect the child. An excellent suspense novel, coming August 2019. (Netgalley review)

wildflower heartWildflower Heart by Grace Greene. Kara is recovering physically and psychologically from the accident that claimed her husband’s life. Her father buys a house out in the country without explanation, and Kara is along for the ride, but she resolves not to get too settled in there. As she and her father begin to restore the old house, she finds herself healing not only from the trauma of the accident but from her mother’s death during Kara’s teen years, and learns more about her father’s own woundedness. A good story, but Kara seemed so remote, it was hard to care about what happened to her. Coming January 22. (Netgalley review)

i owe you oneI Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella. Fixie Farr tries to keep the family business from going under while her mother grieves her father’s death, her ambitious brother takes financial risks to make the business more upscale, and her ditzy sister insists on opening a yoga studio in the middle of the housewares store. Fixie’s infatuation with an old crush leads her to risk a relationship with a guy who could actually be good for her. As usual, Sophie Kinsella never disappoints. Coming February 5. (Netgalley review)

Nonfiction

make my life simpleRachel Balducci’s 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. 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. Read my full review. (Advance review copy received from publisher.)

grace of enoughHaley Stewart’s 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 canall 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. Read my full review. (Advance review copy received from publisher.)

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

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

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2018’s Best Books

2018 best books
Image created in Canva.com using free elements.

Just for fun! This list is sorted by genre.

Best Bible

TGA BibleThe Great Adventure Catholic Bible from Ascension Press combines a beautiful Bible with color-coded timelines, a 90-day Bible reading plan (which covers the highlights of salvation history), and guidance on interpreting the Bible, applying Scripture to our lives, and praying with Scripture. The Bible is divided into sections, each of which has a fascinating introduction featuring maps, charts, and historical background. Read my full review. (Review copy received from publisher)

Best Children’s Book

staircase for the sistersInspired by the true story of an architectural marvel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, A Staircase for the Sisters tells about the miraculous construction of a staircase to the choir loft of a tiny church where there wasn’t room for any stairs. I remember visiting this church during a cross-country trip as a child, and I was struck by the fascinating story of a mysterious carpenter who was an answer to prayer. Insisting upon working alone, the carpenter constructed a spiral staircase without nails or a center support — and then he disappeared. At the end of the book, readers will find information on the Loretto Chapel, St. Joseph, and a novena to St. Joseph. This short book is an excellent read-aloud for children 5 and up, and older independent readers will enjoy it as well. (Review copy received from publisher)

Best Christmas Novel

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

Best Christmas Series

where treetops glistenWhere Treetops Glisten by Tricia Goyer, Cara Putman, and Sarah Sundin: three linked Christmas romance novellas set during World War II. This was a lovely series with nearly-seamless storytelling; you couldn’t really tell that different authors were behind the three stories. Set in Lafayette, Indiana, these stores span several wartime Christmases and focus on the three Turner siblings and how the war has changed their lives.

Best Fiction

anyone but hiAnyone but Him by Theresa Linden. Some of my favorite characters from Roland West, Loner, are all grown up in this novel directed at the new-adult audience. In a surprising twist right off the bat, Caitlyn wakes up one morning to discover she’s married to her friend Roland’s bad-boy older brother, Jarret — and she’s horrified. She also can’t remember anything that’s happened in the past two or three years. Her coworkers at the private detective agency aren’t much help, and Jarret’s trying to solve the problem by keeping her locked in the house and not letting her call her family. There’s plenty of suspense to keep this story moving along, between strange encounters with both Caitlyn and Jarret’s coworkers and Caitlyn’s various escape attempts. Jarret seems like he’s changed since high school, and Caitlyn’s biggest mission is to find out if that’s for real. (ARC received from author)

Best Horror

hunger

Hunger (short story) by Jane Lebak and Elissa Strati. Horror is not a genre I read, but I’m a big fan of Jane Lebak so I gave this story a try. It’s not at all gory or graphic, and I was surprised to see how much the good vs. evil conflict really came into play in this story. Waitress Sarah stays at her job in a small-town diner to protect patrons from the hungry creature that seems to want to protect her — and that kills anyone who slights her in any way. Come for the pie; don’t hassle this waitress!

Best Mystery

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

Best Nonfiction

making room for GodSome decluttering books are written by people who act like they have it all together. Those books are not for me. In Making Room for God: Decluttering and the Spiritual Life, Mary Elizabeth Sperry readily admits that she has a lot of work to do, and that her home is not perfectly neat and tidy all the time. I like the connections made between homemaking and the spiritual life. This book addresses necessary topics like spiritual discipline, reconciliation, prayer, and materialism. The best chapter, in my opinion, is the one where the author draws parallels between clutter and sin. This book spoke to me so much, I’ve got whole paragraphs underlined, never mind the circles and arrows … (ARC received from publisher)

Best Novella

it was mineIt was Mine by Jeanne Grunert. This novella is a George Bailey story that begins with a Twilight-Zone scene: Stanley, who’d given up an ambitious life plan to care for his aging parents, is a beloved retired teacher in his community. The ancient furnace his father installed in the family home is on the fritz, and Stanley meets a man posing as the furnace repairman who offers him the opportunity to find out what his life would have been like had he abandoned his family and followed his dreams. It’s not at all spooky, and the twist at the end is not to be missed.

Best Poetry

from dust to starsFrom Dust to Stars by Jake Frost. The author captures the reader’s imagination by grounding the poetry in history. The poems cover topics ranging from biblical figures and events to persecution of Catholics in Britain to saints of the Church. Some of them are even prayers, written in verse. I received a review copy of this book from the author. Read my full review. (Review copy received from author)

Best Prayer Book

heart like maryFather Edward Looney’s A Heart Like Mary’s: With 31 chapters, this book is a month-long mini-retreat that you can start reading anytime. Each day’s entry contains a Scripture passage, reflection, prayer to Mary our intercessor, and an action item: a step toward living with a Marian heart. (Review copy received from publisher)

Best Romance

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

Best Southern Gothic

ghosts of faithfulThe Ghosts of Faithful by Kaye Park Hinckley. Not your usual ghost story, Kaye Park Hinckley’s Southern Gothic novel takes place during a single week — Holy Week — and follows a family haunted not only by ghosts, but by each family member’s secrets, betrayals, and regrets. Acts of unspeakable violence, in the past and the present, are connected by the ghosts whose mission seems to be to enact justice, even when everyone’s lives, careers, and marriages seem to be falling apart. (Review copy received from author)

 

Best Suspense

keeping lucyKeeping Lucy by T. Greenwood. Her rich in-laws expect perfection, so when Ginny’s baby is born with Down Syndrome, the family whisks the child off to an institution. Two years later (1969), Ginny learns that this school is under investigation for mistreatment of the residents, and goes there to see for herself. She and her best friend Marsha wind up taking Lucy from the institution, then taking off to Florida with the toddler and Ginny’s six-year-old while they desperately try to figure out how to protect the child. An excellent suspense novel, coming August 2019. (Netgalley review)

Best YA Anthology

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

Best YA Contemporary

3 Things to Forget by Cynthia T. Toney. A satisfying conclusion to the engaging “Bird Face” series for teens, this novel sees Wendy finally getting to visit her friend Sam in Alaska, and trying to reconnect with Sam’s grandmother, Mrs. V, whose dementia is quite advanced by now. Typical Wendy wants to protect those around her from doing things that could be harmful to themselves, and this time her well-meant intervention focuses on Dev, a fellow volunteer at an animal shelter who’s depressed and angry at her family. It was easy to jump right back into the series, and I’m sad to see this 4-part series end; I really enjoyed this cast of characters.

Best YA Historical

Charlotte’s Honor by Ellen Gable Hrkach. This second book in the “Great War Great Love” series is the story of Charlotte, who serves as a medical volunteer near Soissons, France, and has a heart for aiding the most critically wounded patients, patiently comforting the dying soldiers. She shows her strength when she volunteers to stay behind with these patients and a surgeon when the field hospital is evacuated due to enemy fire. Charlotte’s unique combination of devotion and grit attracts the attention of Dr. K, whose own heartbreak steers him away from pursuing a relationship with her. Another volunteer is jealous of the time Dr. K spends with Charlotte and tries to undermine Charlotte’s character. Meanwhile, Charlotte discovers a cryptic note in a hidden old chapel, a note which leads to a surprising discovery. (Review copy received from author) Read my full review.

Best YA Novella

Unlikely Witnesses by Leslea Wahl. Can’t get enough of the characters in Leslea Wahl’s full-length books? This novella puts couples from The Perfect Blindside and An Unexpected Role in the same location, on a trip to a dude ranch that turns into a mystery they just can’t leave alone. The four wind up being interrogated by a disgruntled FBI investigator, who finds himself unexpectedly impressed by their guts and their faith. Comic moments keep the story from being too heavy. You don’t have to have read the novels that introduced these characters before you read this story, but I recommend you read them anyway! My only complaint? This is under 100 pages. I would have been happy for more!

What are the best books you’ve read this year?


Unless otherwise noted, I purchased these books myself.

All Amazon links in this article are affiliate links; your purchase through these links supports my efforts here. Thank you!

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

Stay-Connected-Journals-for-Catholic-Women-FB

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

1-59471-869-5

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: The Catholic All Year Compendium

Four Novembers ago I was a substitute teacher, in a long-term placement with the second grade. Since it was a Catholic school, I began the first November school day with the announcement, “November is the Month of the Holy Souls. We pray for them to help them get into heaven.”

And a student replied, all seriousness: “I thought November is Men’s Cancer Month …”

If you’ve ever wondered why we Catholics don’t make as much of our various feast days and liturgical seasons as the secular world makes of National Talk Like a Pirate Day, Kendra Tierney of CatholicAllYear.com has a new book that will help you learn to live out the liturgical year with your family (or your students): The Catholic All Year Compendium.

catholic all year

New from Ignatius Press, The Catholic All Year Compendium puts all the liturgical-living information you need into one book. You won’t have to dig through the free calendar you pick up at church, five websites, and four books about the lives of the saints to find some ways to observe the Church’s feasts, fasts, and everything in between — and make them work for your family.

When my kids were younger (and it may well have been when there were only two of them) I did all that digging. I made sure we ate Mexican food on December 9 to celebrate then-blessed Juan Diego. I served (canned) cinnamon rolls on the feast of St. Lucy. We blessed our home with holy water and wrote “K+M+B” and the year above the front door every Epiphany. I still load one shoe per family member with treats and little gifts on St. Nicholas’ feast, December 6, and I’ve even got the box packed so my adult son, who now lives two time zones away, can enjoy some treats too.

Clearly, I celebrate feasts with food — that’s my love language. I’m not so great at decorating, and I’m grateful that my young-adult daughter has mostly taken that task over. Crafts? No way. But whether your talents lie in cooking, baking, decorating, or creating, Tierney provides ideas you can use to celebrate your faith all year long.

The introduction, titled “Liturgical Living for Life,” explains how you can make the liturgical year your own. That does not mean playing fast and loose with the Church calendar. It means taking that calendar and starting where you are to “bring a bit of the tradition of our beautiful faith into your home” (15). Use what you have (or can easily get).

The main part of the book is organized by season, beginning (of course) with Advent and going right on through Ordinary Time After Pentecost. Nearly 300 pages of saints’ stories, family stories, menu and craft suggestions, and ideas for activities ensure that you’ll always be able to find something that will work for your family.

At the end of the book there are four appendices. Don’t skip these! They cover fasting and abstinence, indulgences, the canonization processes, and a quick-reference guide to the feasts in the book (I’m bookmarking that section). For example, for this coming Sunday (Christ the King Sunday) you’ll see this entry:

Last Sunday in Ordinary Time: Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (Sunday, solemnity, holy day of obligation) — Te Deum (plenary indulgence); chicken à la king, Bundt cake (page 309).

From there, you’ve got your basic praying and eating ideas, and you know where in the book to find more information. Some dates include activities such as an outdoor picnic, preparing a meal for a friend who is pregnant or has a new baby, or decorating the Christmas tree.

“Compendium” is such a satisfying, old-fashioned word. It evokes images of vintage books, antique recipe boxes overflowing with hand-written ingredient lists, and a slower-paced lifestyle. Your lifestyle might feel like anything but slow-paced. In recent years I’ve let the frenzy of having older kids who have places to be after dinner (jobs, rehearsals, sports practices or games) be my excuse for opting out of my liturgical-year menu planning. But The Catholic All Year Compendium has reminded me that celebrating the liturgical year in my domestic church doesn’t have to be expensive, time-consuming, or complicated. This Advent, I’m going to put in the extra effort to get back into the spirit of the season and of the individual saints’ days that fill the calendar at this time of year.

Barb's Book shelf blog title


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

#OpenBook: October 2018 Reads

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

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

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

Fiction

Tupelo Honey by Lis Anna-Langston. A powerful novel about a young girl whose mom’s drug addiction and extended family’s mental illness bring her eleven-year-old into situations no child should experience. Tupelo Honey, with her imaginary friend Moochi, does what she can to survive — bonding with drug dealers, hiding money from her schizophrenic uncle, and navigating the group-foster-care system. This kid shows guts in unbelievably awful circumstances.

The Ghosts of Faithful by Kaye Park Hinckley. Not your usual ghost story, Kaye Park Hinckley’s Southern Gothic novel takes place during a single week — Holy Week — and follows a family haunted not only by ghosts, but by each family member’s secrets, betrayals, and regrets. Acts of unspeakable violence, in the past and the present, are connected by the ghosts whose mission seems to be to enact justice, even when everyone’s lives, careers, and marriages seem to be falling apart. I received an advance review copy of this book from the author.

Chasing Someday (Home in You book 4) by Crystal Walton. Aspiring coffee-shop owner Livy keeps failing at relationships, so her best friend Chase offers to help her “practice date.” She’s the last one to see where this is going, choosing instead to focus on the famous local-boy-made-good who shows up when he feels like it, stands her up more often, and generally treats her badly. Chase is tired of being in the “friend zone” and wants to find a way to pursue his dream to restore classic cars so he can help support his aging dad — and that’s not something he can do locally. Mix in an aptly-named dog named Bandit for some comic relief and you get a really good story.

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Amy Matayo. Presley and Micah were across-the-street neighbors as kids, both living any child’s nightmare with abusive parents — and keeping each other’s secrets. Micah, as an adult, has decided to stick it to his abusive dad and runaway mom by getting out of town and making it big in the city. Presley’s dreams keep her close to home, in the small town Micah can’t wait to leave behind. The two are drawn to each other, but Micah is also drawn in by Mara, the new girl in the office who flouts company policy by dating Micah in an extremely public way — and Presley’s the only one who sees Mara’s true motives. Great suspense, plenty of twists and turns, and characters it’s not easy to forget.

Close to You by Kara Isaac. Allison has a Ph.D. but the guy she married was still married to his first wife, and he’s got all her money tied up in a bitter court case. She lost her job as a professor over the whole mess, so she’s giving Tolkien tours in New Zealand. Her latest tour includes an elderly gentleman with more money than he knows what to do with, and his nephew, who can’t stand Tolkien but wants to get on his uncle’s good side so he can borrow money to repay investors after his own relationship disaster, in which his girlfriend stols his company’s secrets and gave them to another guy. A predictable but sweet romance — with plenty of comic moments. (And you don’t have to be a Tolkien fan to enjoy this story.)

Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg. A sweet story of friendships across the generations. The elderly Lucille keeps busy baking cakes for restaurants and teaching cooking classes, but she’s slowing down. Several times, she bargains with the Angel of Death to let her live a little longer so she can be there for the little boy next door, whose mother has leukemia. Lucille’s assistant, Iris, can’t bake, but she’s very smart — and needs a project to distract her from her regrets. And then there’s Monica and Tiny, who seem so right for each other — but there are too many near-misses. A bit New-Agey for my taste at some moments, but a sweet story; it’s the second in a series and I will go back to find the first one. I received an advance copy of this book from Netgalley.

Love’s Rules of the Road by Maddie Evans (First Street Church Romances). In this sequel to Love’s Highway, rebellious wealthy runaway Casey returns to Sweet Grove for a week’s visit with her boyfriend Peter before returning to college. While she’s there, an accident lands Peter’s older brother in the hospital, derailing Peter’s plans to enlist in the military and causing plenty of family chaos. Casey, whose train-hopping habits were the reason she met Peter in the first place, seeks solace in the hobby that helps her run away when things get tough.

american streetAmerican Street by Ibi Zoboi. A Haitian teenager coming to Detroit to stay with cousins is desperate to reunite with her mother, who was detained by border patrol. She quickly learns that America is not what she dreamed it would be, and that her aunt and cousins’ lifestyle, while not lavish, is financed through illegal means. Fabiola agrees to collect evidence against her cousin’s boyfriend in order to secure her mother’s release, but finds out that things are not always what they seem. Heavy profanity and violence.

YA/Children’s

3 Things to Forget by Cynthia T. Toney. A satisfying conclusion to the engaging “Bird Face” series for teens, this novel sees Wendy finally getting to visit her friend Sam in Alaska, and trying to reconnect with Sam’s grandmother, Mrs. V, whose dementia is quite advanced by now. Typical Wendy wants to protect those around her from doing things that could be harmful to themselves, and this time her well-meant intervention focuses on Dev, a fellow volunteer at an animal shelter who’s depressed and angry at her family. It was easy to jump right back into the series, and I’m sad to see this 4-part series end; I really enjoyed this cast of characters.

Charlotte’s Honor by Ellen Gable Hrkach. This second book in the “Great War Great Love” series is the story of Charlotte, who serves as a medical volunteer near Soissons, France, and has a heart for aiding the most critically wounded patients, patiently comforting the dying soldiers. She shows her strength when she volunteers to stay behind with these patients and a surgeon when the field hospital is evacuated due to enemy fire. Charlotte’s unique combination of devotion and grit attracts the attention of Dr. K, whose own heartbreak steers him away from pursuing a relationship with her. Another volunteer is jealous of the time Dr. K spends with Charlotte and tries to undermine Charlotte’s character. Meanwhile, Charlotte discovers a cryptic note in a hidden old chapel, a note which leads to a surprising discovery. I received an advance review copy of this book from the author. Read my full review.

Unlikely Witnesses by Leslea Wahl. Can’t get enough of the characters in Leslea Wahl’s full-length books? This novella puts couples from The Perfect Blindside and An Unexpected Role in the same location, on a trip to a dude ranch that turns into a mystery they just can’t leave alone. The four wind up being interrogated by a disgruntled FBI investigator, who finds himself unexpectedly impressed by their guts and their faith. Comic moments keep the story from being too heavy. You don’t have to have read the novels that introduced these characters before you read this story, but I recommend you read them anyway! My only complaint? This is under 100 pages. I would have been happy for more!

Margaret’s Night in St. Peter’s by Jon M. Sweeney. This 64-page chapter book (the second in a series) would make an excellent classroom read-aloud in the days leading up to Christmas break. The inquisitive little cat will capture students’ hearts, and there’s the added fun of an insider’s look at life in Vatican City! Author Jon Sweeney depicts the pope as a humble man who sneaks his pet into choir rehearsals and takes a break in the middle of a busy Christmas Eve to show Margaret all around St. Peter’s Basilica. I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher, Paraclete Press.

Sisters of the Last Straw: The Case of the Haunted Chapel by Karen Kelly Boyce. I’m a big fan of this series — but somehow missed reading the first one until now! You won’t find picture-perfect nuns among the Sisters of the Last Straw: All of them had failed in other convents because of bad habits they just can’t shake. Together, their best and worst qualities make for high comedy as they chase runaway goats and try to figure out what’s causing the strange noises and voices they’re hearing in the chapel. This book for readers in grades 2 and up would make a great read-aloud for primary grade students too.

Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M.M. Blume. Cornelia’s mom is a concert pianist who’s almost never home; Cornelia’s dad isn’t in the picture at all. Raised by a stern house manager, Cornelia avoids friendships because everyone is always more interested in her famous parents. When glamorous, elderly Virginia Somerset moves in next door with her servant and French bulldog, Cornelia is captivated — and learns what it’s like to be appreciated for who she is.

Nonfiction

Don’t Forget to Say Thank You by Lindsay Schlegel. The things we say to our kids contain more truth than we think: truths about our relationship with God. Lindsay Schlegel shares 15 of those phrases we say around the house on a daily basis, and examines what they mean by imagining God saying those same phrases to her. Rounding out each short chapter is a prayer, reflection questions, and a couple of patron saints whose example can help us on our spiritual journeys. Honest, encouraging, and challenging. I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley.

Poetry

from dust to starsFrom Dust to Stars by Jake Frost. The author captures the reader’s imagination by grounding the poetry in history. The poems cover topics ranging from biblical figures and events to persecution of Catholics in Britain to saints of the Church. Some of them are even prayers, written in verse. I received a review copy of this book from the author. Read my full review.


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

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

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

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Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

 

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Charlotte’s Honor

Charlotte’s Honor, the second book in the “Great War Great Love” series for young-adult readers, is the story of Charlotte, a medical volunteer near Soissons, France. Charlotte, whose parents are deceased and whose brother died in action, has a heart for aiding the most critically wounded patients, patiently comforting the dying soldiers. She shows her strength when she volunteers to stay behind with these patients and a surgeon when the field hospital is evacuated due to enemy fire.

Charlotte’s unique combination of devotion and grit attracts the attention of Dr. K, whose own heartbreak steers him away from pursuing a relationship with her. Another volunteer is jealous of the time Dr. K spends with Charlotte and tries to undermine Charlotte’s character. Meanwhile, Charlotte discovers a cryptic note in a hidden old chapel, a note which leads to a surprising discovery.

I appreciated the connection to Julia’s Gifts in this novel. Charlotte was a friend of Julia, so the stories, which take place concurrently, intertwined nicely. And while I’m not trying to judge a book by its cover, I will say that the chapel on the cover of Charlotte’s Honor is exactly the way I’d imagined it (I read an advance electronic copy long before seeing the cover art).

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About the other books in the “Great War Great Love” series:

Julia’s Gifts (Book #1 Great War Great Love) As a young girl, Julia began buying gifts for her future spouse, a man whose likeness and personality she has conjured up in her mind, a man she calls her “beloved.” Soon after the United States enters the Great War, Julia impulsively volunteers as a medical aid worker, with no experience or training. Disheartened by the realities of war, will Julia abandon the pursuit of her beloved? Will Julia’s naïve ‘gift scheme’ distract her from recognizing her true “Great Love?” From Philadelphia to war-torn France, follow Julia as she transitions from unworldly young woman to compassionate volunteer.

Ella’s Promise (Book #3 Great War Great Love) The daughter of German immigrants, Ella is an American nurse who, because of the time period, was discouraged from continuing her studies to become a doctor. During the Great War, she travels to Le Treport, France, to work at the American-run hospital. She meets her own “Great Love” in the last place she would expect to meet him. Ella’s Promise will be released in mid-2019.

About the author: Ellen Gable is an award-winning author of nine books, editor, self-publishing book coach, speaker, publisher, NFP teacher, book reviewer, and instructor in the Theology of the Body for Teens. Her books have been downloaded nearly 700,000 times on Kindle and some of her books have been translated into Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, and French. The mother of five adult sons, Ellen (originally from New Jersey) now lives with her husband of 36 years, James Hrkach, in Pakenham, Ontario, Canada.

Find Ellen at:
Blog: Plot Line and Sinker
Full Quiver Publishing 
Amazon Author Page
Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Goodreads
Pinterest
LinkedIn

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Copyright 2018 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: From Dust to Stars

CatholicMom.com’s own Jake Frost has proved himself a versatile author: he’s penned a children’s book, a memoir, and now a volume of poetry.

In From Dust to Stars, Frost captures the reader’s imagination by grounding the poetry in history. The poems cover topics ranging from biblical figures and events to persecution of Catholics in Britain to saints of the Church. Some of them are even prayers, written in verse.

from dust to stars

Reading poetry requires a very different focus than reading fiction or nonfiction. Instead of hurtling from beginning to end of a story, novel, article, or book, the reader of poetry spins away down the rabbit hole of imagination and wonder and making connections.

I stopped reading From Dust to Stars many times, so I could go down those rabbit holes. I needed to think about how things fit together, to let my mind wander, to wonder. And, I admit, I needed to Google — because Frost’s poems are interspersed with mini-history lessons that made me want to learn more. I found out that the same Franciscans who formerly staffed my home parish are the ones who recently returned to Walsingham. I was fascinated by the story behind “Quo Vadis?” I found myself thinking that “The Ones Who Went Before” could easily be sung in the style of a mournful Irish folk song.

So to all you who would seek to know
Who in dreams the seeds of wonder so
Nurture the wonder so that it grows …
“Saint Brendan”

poetry grounded in history
Image created in Canva. Background photo credit: Walsingham Abbey ruins, by Richard Croft, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Copyright 2018 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: A Family Rosary Book

complete illuminated rosary

Praying the Rosary with children is not without its challenges. When I was substitute-teaching, the children in the primary grades would frequently lose their places because they would drop their rosaries, or fiddle with the beads (or knots) so much that their fingers would move to a different bead. It was all part of the adventure, I thought, and since I was distracted myself, trying to maintain order and a prayerful atmosphere, I figured there was no way around it.

Jerry Windley-Daoust of Gracewatch Media found a creative — and beautiful — way to solve this problem. The Complete Illuminated Rosary is the coffee-table book of Rosary guides. This book is meant to bring parents and children together to pray the Rosary — no beads necessary.

complete illuminated rosary

This large-format book (it measures 8 1/2 x 11″) offers a page or two per prayer for the entire Rosary. Simply turn the page to progress to the next “bead.” At the beginning of each mystery, there is a short selection from the Gospels that corresponds to that mystery, along with a note at the bottom of the page prompting the prayer leader (parent or older child) to ask for prayer intentions. On each “Hail Mary” page, you’ll find a row of beads depicted at the bottom: one for the first “Hail Mary” in the decade, and so on, in case you do want to follow along on a real Rosary.

“Why is it ‘illuminated’?” a friend asked when she saw this book on my coffee table. This is what makes the book truly unique. Every single “bead” in this book is depicted by a beautiful work of sacred art, from a wide variety of styles. You’ll find work by El Greco, Delacroix, Caravaggio, Frangelico, and Rubens, plus present-day artists Jen Norton, Brother Michael “Mickey” O’Neill McGrath, and Andrei Mironov — among many, many others. An art-credits section at the end of the book explains the source of every painting, drawing, or stained-glass window. The art in the book, all by itself, can lead you to prayer.

Gracewatch Media offers the Illuminated Rosary in three formats: paperback, hardcover, and in separate books for each mystery. Securing the rights to use some art that is not in the public domain, plus publishing in full color in a large format, contribute to the cost of this book (as of this writing, $49.49 on Amazon for the paperback), but this book is a treasury of art dedicated to prayer.


Copyright 2018 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: “Where You Lead” by Leslea Wahl

You might think, from the title, that Leslea Wahl’s new novel for teens is Gilmore Girls fan fiction. You’d be wrong.

The “You” in Where You Lead isn’t a character in the novel at all. It’s God — and that’s a really cool angle in a YA book.

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In this fun-to-read romantic suspense novels for teens, Eve is prompted by an odd vision to goad her parents into a cross-country move. She can’t tell them the real reason: she knows she needs to help or protect the young man playing Frisbee in front of a red castle. But when Eve engineers a chance to meet him, Nick (understandably) thinks she’s a crazy stalker.

Soon the professor’s daughter and senator’s son find themselves embroiled in a mystery involving lost Civil War treasure — one that may have international implications in the present. It’s refreshing to read about teens who openly pray and who try to find out what God wants them to do, especially as this felt like a natural part of the story, not something forced. The dialogue and characters are real, and the cranky elderly neighbor provided comic relief. I was immediately drawn into this page-turner.

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The sense of place in this novel really struck me. Leslea Wahl lived in Washington, DC, as a young adult, and between her own experience in our nation’s capital, plus plenty of careful research, she makes the setting come alive. It’s been decades since I’ve visited DC, but now I have a mental list of places I’d love to see if we ever return there.

Where You Lead is recommended for readers in middle school and up.

Do you want to win a free book? Leslea is hosting a Treasure Hunt through October 15, with 10 chances to win!

I still hear that Carole King song in my head when I see the title, but I think the lyrics definitely apply to this story.


Copyright 2018 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.