On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

Book Review: The Little Way of Living with Less.

Letting go is hard. And maybe that’s the reason for the subtitle of Laraine Bennett’s new book, The Little Way of Living with Less: Learning to Let Go with the Little Flower. In this new release from Sophia Institute Press, Bennett shares her musings on a “less is more” manner of living, inspired by the writing of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

 

 

Arguably, the saint’s life as a cloistered Carmelite nun automatically lent itself to the kind of simplicity that mothers in the 21st century will never hope to see. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from this saint’s words and example, and apply those to our situation, examining what to keep, what to share, and what we might not even need in the first place.

I admit it: I’m very attached to my stuff. I keep a lot of things I “might need someday” but probably never will … and it definitely goes against the grain for me to donate those useful objects—but, looking back, I’ve always been more than willing to give something I was saving for that elusive “someday” to a friend or neighbor who needed that particular thing right now. My challenge, I guess, is giving up the things without seeing the faces of the ones who will be using it.

Reading this book has pushed me to re-examine my relationship with the things I keep. Do I need all of them? Do I even want all of them? Would I benefit more if I moved some things along, by having more open space in my closet and on my shelves: do I have to have everything filled to the brim all the time?

Reading this book at this time of year has been a good push to examine the clothing I keep. As the weather gets chilly, I’m putting away the summer blouses and bringing out the winter fleece. How much of each of these do I really need? When’s the last time I even wore that? Why am I hanging on to it if I’m not using it? As I sort, I’m filling a box—and when it’s full, I’ll arrange for it to be picked up for the next clothing drive, along with the big box of handmedown kitchen stuff left behind by my kids after they finished college.

My favorite chapter in The Little Way of Living with Less is chapter 7: “The Tranquility of Order.” I want that tranquility, the peace that comes from having what I need—because peace doesn’t come from hanging on to stuff I don’t.


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for my review.
Amazon links are included in this article; your purchase supports FranciscanMom.com at no cost to you.

Start Your Advent Preparations Now!

It’s September 30. Do you know where your Advent candles are?

I do, because I bought about 6 packs in bulk a couple of years ago, and we’re still working through that supply. I don’t have an attic; we keep them in a mini-closet in the basement where the Christmas decorations live (which automatically means we can’t go too crazy buying Christmas decorations, because I insist that we keep the Christmas decorations there, and only there.

So I’ve got my candles (and enough for a few more years) and now I have the brand-new Advent devotional by Lisa M. Hendey: 5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath.

 

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This booklet is filled with Scripture-based, simple prayers for the Advent season, plus questions to ponder for each day as you prepare to welcome the newborn Christ.

These Advent prayers are appropriate for individuals as well as families, classrooms, and small faith sharing groups.

If you’ve spent any time around this blog, you know I’m hardly an expert about Advent. Around here, it’s the season where table manners and fire collide. But now that all my kids have come out the other side of the teenage years, I’m figuring that maybe—just maybe—we can add in some devotion to our family Advent-wreath ritual.

It’s only 5 minutes a day. We can do it! Join me!

And it’s not too early to think about Advent, my friends. It’ll be here before you know it: Advent begins November 27 this year. And all the craft stores are already putting Halloween stuff on clearance, so if you don’t have candles yet, don’t wait. And while you’re buying your candles, go ahead and order this book, too.

5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath is available on Amazon, through Ave Maria Press, and at your local Catholic bookstore.

Ave Maria Press offers even more Advent devotional materials based on this booklet: check those resources out for free!


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photos copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.
Article contains Amazon links; your purchase through these links support FranciscanMom.com at no cost to you.
I received a free review copy of this booklet from the publisher and was not compensated for this review in any way.

On My Bookshelf: Perfectly Human by Joseph Dutkowsky, MD

Is there anything better than a warm chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven? I believe we’re handed them by God all the time and too often don’t notice or can’t figure out what to do with them. I’m a firm believer that when God hands you a chocolate chip cookie take a big bite out of it! (173)

Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky, or “Dr. D” as he signed off when he emailed to tell me he’d sent me a copy of his memoir, Perfectly Human, spent his life taking big bites of the chocolate-chip cookies God handed him, and the world is better for it.

 

In this fascinating book, Dr. D describes his journey from engineering student to pre-med and on to a series of academic and professional opportunities that led him to dedicate his medical career to caring and advocating for persons (mostly children) with disabilities. It’s evident from the very first page that Dr. D loves his work, and that his patients have been as much a gift to him as he has been to them. Dr. D looks into the eyes of his patients and sees the eyes of Jesus looking back at him.

Dr. D has not only worked hard as an orthopedic surgeon to help his patients enjoy their lives by assisting them in overcoming mobility challenges, he has led by example in looking and listening and helping to meet the needs of his patients and their families.

Through the patients, families, and community providers whom I serve, I learned the fundamental truth that you cannot take care of a child with a disability without taking care of their family and community. (82)

Throughout the book, Dr. D shares stories of encounters with patients and acknowledges that he was changed as much as the children and adults he has treated over the years. The thread that holds all these stories together is Dr. D’s deep reverence for the gift of life, no matter how imperfect that life might be in the eyes of an unfriendly world.

Particularly timely in these days of post-Roe vitriol against those who protect the vulnerable unborn is Chapter 16, “The New Eugenics.” Many of Dr. D’s patients have been individuals with Down syndrome. He observes,

Worst of all, this new eugenics is even threatening their lives. Through medical science, new tests exist and are being developed to genetically and morphologically examine a fetus in the womb. In the greatest tradition of medicine this information would be used to make early diagnoses that could lead to prenatal treatments to enhance the life of the child in the womb and after birth. In the worst tradition of medicine this technology is being used to terminate the pregnancy of an “undesirable” child. (168)

In this powerful chapter, Dr. D decries a culture that penalizes women “economically, socially, and professionally” for having children; a culture in which easy access to abortion enables men to use women; a culture which views easy access to abortion as a “solution to poverty” (169).

Dr. D told me, when he sent me this book, that it’s not a book: it’s a movement. He’s right. This book, which I called a memoir but might better describe as a call to action disguised as a memoir, is a spiritual push to see the intrinsic value of each person: born and unborn, healthy or ill, strong or weak, ambulatory or wheelchair-bound.

It’s also a love story, dedicated to his late wife, Karen, who supported him in the adventures that took him from New England to Tennessee, from New York to Peru and back again.

And it’s a testament to the faith of a man who has come to see all of life as a gift from God, packaged as a series of chocolate-chip cookies and ready to be enjoyed in a way that, in turn, glorifies the God who created it in the first place.

Perfectly Human is a book that will make you smile and cry—sometimes within the same page. I’d particularly recommend this book to young people entering the medical field, whether as doctors, nurses, or allied professionals, and to educators as well.


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Image: Stencil

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.

Recommended Reading for the Eucharistic Revival

To renew the Church by enkindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. (EucharisticRevival.org)

 

The United States Congress of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will initiate a three-year Eucharistic Revival beginning Sunday, June 19, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. During this revival, Catholics will be called upon to deepen and strengthen our belief in and devotion to the Eucharist: the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Here are some of the books I’ll be reading during this time, and others I’ve recently read. Join me!

Merridith Frediani’s Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Eucharistic Adoration is much more than a guidebook about a particular type of devotion, this book, published by Our Sunday Visitor, begins with an explanation about Adoration that is definitely not for beginners only. Not every parish or Adoration Chapel offers advice or instruction on customary prayer practices associated with this devotion, so you’ll find that this book fills in those gaps in a helpful way.

nullIvonne J. Hernandez is the author of The Rosary: Eucharistic Meditations with St. Peter Julian Eymard, Apostle of the Eucharist. This is a beautiful book of meditations on the Mysteries of the Rosary. I prayed my way through this book over the course of four holy hours in the Adoration Chapel, but there’s enough material in the entry for every mystery that you could focus on a single mystery each day for three weeks, if you prefer.

Just published by Aleteia+OSV, My Daily Visitor: Eucharist by Patrick Mary Briscoe, O.P. is a devotional booklet with 40 days of meditations inspired by Gospel stories and the writings of the saints. Entries are short (one page per day) and the book’s small format makes it easy to take with you or keep inside your Bible or breviary for daily reading and prayer. This devotional also contains a collection of prayers before the Eucharist, written by saints including St. Catherine of Siena, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and St. Maria Faustina Kowalska.

7 Secrets of the Eucharist  by Vinny Flynn, published by MercySong/Ignatius, is a favorite of three authors whose opinions I deeply respect: Maria V. Gallagher, Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur, and Allison Gingras, who commented, “This book literally changed my life.” Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur noted in her Amazon review, “[this book] helps readers to once again be amazed by the mystery of the Eucharist. While no one can fully understand the Eucharist, Flynn uses Scripture, The Catechism of the Catholic Church, certain Church documents, and the Diary of St. Faustina to help explain it as much as possible. … This book provides complex information about this sacrament in a highly readable format.”

Ave Maria Press has recently published two books by Timothy P. O’Malley, in its Engaging Catholicism series, which I’m reading now. Real Presence: What Does It Mean and Why Does It Matter?, the first book, explains the biblical origins and long tradition of the Church’s doctrines of real presence and transubstantiation, and encourages spiritual practices that will help us recognizing Christ in the Eucharist and in others.

The second book, Becoming Eucharistic People: The Hope and Promise of Parish Life, discusses ways to cultivate a culture in our parishes that treats Real Presence not only as an important Catholic doctrine, but also as the most important part of parish identity. This book is not just for priests and parish ministers—there’s valuable information and food for thought for every reader.

 

What will you be reading during the Eucharistic Revival? Share your recommendations in the comments!

 


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photo copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

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

books on a bookshelf

An Open Book: June 2022

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. This has been a spring for reading books outside my normal fare! Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:

Fiction

I’ve been bingeing my way through Irene Hannon’s Hope Harbor series. Set in a small town in coastal Oregon, this clean romance series features a terrific supporting cast, including Charley, an artist/taco truck owner whose powerful insights often set other characters on the right track; the priest and minister, good friends who engage in good-natured battles over who knows Scripture better; and Floyd and Gladys (I won’t spoil this one for you). They’re quick, enjoyable reads—perfect for summer. So far I’ve read the first 6 of 8 books and definitely recommend that you read the series in order:

Hope Harbor
Sea Rose Lane
Sandpiper Cove
Pelican Point
Driftwood Bay
Starfish Pier
and the last two, which I’ll be reading soon: Blackberry Beach and Sea Glass Cottage.

The Love We Vow and The Vows We Keep by Victoria Everleigh feature a man in his early thirties who struggles with his priestly vocation and guilt from his past relationships. The books include prolife themes as well as a focus on forgiveness (including forgiving oneself for past mistakes) and reconciliation with God and others. I wasn’t much of a fan of Tristan, the main character—he didn’t seem to know what he wanted out of life, but the female characters in both books were more relatable.

In the Shadows of Freedom by C & C Spellman is the first in a dystopian trilogy by a husband-and-wife author team. A young woman, off to attend art school in New York City, is tracked by government agents seeking to remove all religious influence from the country. The self-focused Amanda is oblivious to all of this. She trades obsession for her art to obsession with a drug her supposed “friends” introduce her to, and neglects contacting her own family until the crisis she finds herself in, a literal battle between good and evil, threatens her life and she decides to go home and seek refuge there. This novel was beautifully written and is a compelling story. I’m not a big reader of this genre, but I’m invested enough in the story that I want to continue reading the series. Book 2, A Nation of Tyrants, is available now.

 

YA/Children’s

Pudge & Prejudice by A.K. Pittman. A slightly overweight high-school sophomore in a large family of beautiful girls starts the year in a new school in a new state, and can’t figure out how to fit in, or what to do about her feelings for the football star whose best friend is her sister’s boyfriend. The ’80s references in this book were terrific—it takes place during the time of my own teenage years. I missed most of the Jane Austen references in this novel, because I’m not a fan, but even without that, it was an excellent story.

Nonfiction

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City by Jonathan Mahler was a fascinating look at the city very near where I grew up during my growing-up years. I recognized the names of most of the politicians and baseball players just from what I absorbed as the child of an avid Yankees fan. I remember many of the events that took place that year (the blackout, Son of Sam) and this book put things into more context than I had, given that they happened while I was in middle school. I’m recommending this to my mom (the Yankees fan mentioned above).

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 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

An Open Book: April 2022

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

Fiction

The Roommate Situation (Only in Atlanta, Book 1) by Katie Bailey. An enjoyable clean romance, but I liked the second in the series more. This one featured a young woman who just broke up with her cheating boyfriend, showed up unannounced at her older brother’s house, and found that only his roommate would be there for a few weeks. They try to hide their developing relationship from everyone, to no avail and to hilarious effect. (4 stars)

 

Neighbor WarThe Neighbor War: A Romantic Comedy (Only in Atlanta Book 2) by Katie Bailey. A fun, light read about neighbors who have longtime crushes on each other but don’t know the other one likes them—and one of them thinks she hates the other, based on an erroneous first impression. Witty banter (so much witty banter!), fun characters. (5 stars)

 

Bluebird by Genevieve Graham. Historical fiction set in Canada during/just after World War I. In this second-chance love story, a military nurse falls for a patient who, along with his brother, had been seriously injured doing dangerous work. After the war, the former soldier and his family make their living as bootleggers and smugglers across the Canada-US border, and the nurse unwittingly begins dating the brothers’ biggest competition, a gangster who is out to ruin his enemies. I’ll definitely look for more by this author. (5 stars; Netgalley review.)

 

YA/Children’s

Finding Junie KimFinding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh. Dual timeline fiction, set during Korean War and present-day, with both story lines from the view of adolescents. The story itself is a lovely family saga, even as it recounts the brutalities of war. The book takes on racism and bigotry but openly supports the BLM movement, and there was definitely an undercurrent of anti-white-privilege going on, which is its own form of racism. Because of this and because of some disturbing content (war violence), I would recommend a critical read before giving it to a child because the book definitely does endorse a party line. (4 stars)

Nonfiction

No Such Thing as OrdinaryNo Such Thing as Ordinary by Rachel Balducci. Rachel’s upbringing in the faith is different from most, because she was raised in an intentional Christian community, where she still lives. Don’t let her unique experience stop you from reading this encouraging look at being your best for God, structured around the story of the woman at the well. (4 stars; Netgalley review. Releases May 6.)
Synopsis: Are you looking for freedom and fulfillment in the life you are already living, or do you feel trapped because your everyday reality doesn’t match your dreams? No Such Thing as Ordinary will help you discover the passion and adventure in your life while empowering you to see how God uses daily, here-and-now moments to draw you to him in an extraordinary way. Drawing from Jesus’s conversation with the woman at the well in the Gospel of John, Rachel Balducci—Catholic writer and cohost of CatholicTV’s The Gist—shares how a deep unrest in her life launched her on a journey to discover the secret that true joy is found in a deeper relationship with Jesus.

Dust Bowl Girls coverThe Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of the Team that Barnstormed Its Way to Basketball Glory by Lydia Reeder. The true story of a Depression-era women’s basketball team in Oklahoma. A fascinating premise: women recuited to attend a junior college in Oklahoma face challenges ranging from poverty to sexism as they work to qualify for a championship tournament against some of the region’s best female basketball players. The book got bogged down in some unnecessary detail that didn’t keep the story moving and maybe could have been included as a supplement rather than incorporated into the story line. (4 stars.)

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.

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

Stations of the Cross - HC Cathedral Boston 2019

OSV Kids Stations of the Cross: Devotions Just Right for Children

In her new booklet, OSV Kids Stations of the Cross, Colleen Pressprich proves that the Stations of the Cross can be made accessible to kids without watering down the impact of the devotion.

One of the things I look forward to each Lent is the parish celebration of the Stations of the Cross each Friday. When my children were in grade school, they would go to the church on Friday afternoons to pray the Stations. Parents were invited to attend, and I often did when my schedule allowed, but the resource the school was using for the Stations was complicated, with flowery language.

That’s not a problem with this new resource from OSV Kids. Colleen Pressprich and illustrator Adalee Hude have created a prayer resource that’s long on reverence and simplicity and short on complicated vocabulary and graphic detail.

Each Station begins with the traditional call-and-response used at the Stations of the Cross. A brief meditation follows, accompanied by a few questions to help the children relate the challenges and suffering Jesus faced to experiences in their own lives. In the prayer for each Station, the children ask for Jesus’ help in meeting challenges such as loneliness, tiredness, frustration, discouragement, and forgiveness.

The meditation and prayer from the Second Station are good examples of how the suffering Jesus experienced is depicted in a child-appropriate way:

The soldiers make Jesus carry his own cross to the hill where he will die. The cross is very heavy. Jesus was in prison all night, and he hasn’t eaten any food since the Last Supper the night before. He also has been beaten. He is tired and weak, yet he still chooses to take up his own cross and walk toward his death because he loves us.

Have you ever had to do something very hard even though you were tired? How did it feel? What helped you keep going? What do you think Jesus was thinking when he lifted the heavy cross onto his back?

Dear Jesus, please remind us that you are with us when we are tired and don’t want to do what is asked of us. Please help us to remember that we can offer up what we don’t like as a prayer. Amen.

 

I would recommend OSV Kids Stations of the Cross for use with children in elementary school. It’s an excellent resource for families to use to pray the Stations together, and would also be great for use in Catholic schools or religious education programs.

Don’t skip the author’s note at the beginning of the book. Pressprich addresses this to parents, teachers, and priests; in it, she explains how adults can model faith-sharing by using some of the questions in the meditation for each Station.

OSV Kids Stations of the Cross has received an Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat, which indicate that the book is free from doctrinal or moral error.

It’s important to note that while the Stations of the Cross is a popular devotion during Lent, the Stations can be prayed all year ’round. I remember that when I was a child, my great-aunts and great-uncle used to visit a church every single day to pray the Stations—even while on vacation! If you find that the Stations of the Cross becomes a special devotion for your family, think about ways you could pray it as a family once a month, perhaps on the First Friday.


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photo copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.

This article contains Amazon affiliate links. Your purchase using these links supports my writing ministry at no additional cost to you.

Our Lady of Lourdes

The Miracle You Want vs. the Miracle You Need

Christy and Todd WIlkens took their son Oscar to Lourdes with the Order of Malta on a pilgrimage, hoping for healing.

The couple was desperate for a miracle. Their little boy was suffering from a seizure disorder that had begun during his infancy. After a year of chasing treatment after treatment, Christy could see that nothing was helping Oscar—at least, nothing that doctors or hospitals could offer him.

In Awakening at Lourdes: How an Unanswered Prayer Healed Our Family and Restored Our Faith, Christy Wilkens describes the details of her last-ditch spiritual effort to heal what modern medicine could not. She and her husband were exhausted, and the constant caregiving, monitoring, and medical visits for Oscar did not leave much left over for their five older children—or their marriage.

As they began their journey at the airport, Christy and Todd learned immediately about the loving care Oscar—and she and her husband—would receive from the team of Order of Malta volunteers, known as a “pod,” who were assigned to her family, and only to her family. Even as they learned what Oscar needed, these volunteers provided what Christy and Todd needed as well, including time to process the 24/7 caregiving their little boy had required for the past year.

A pilgrimage to Lourdes is much, much more than simply a trip to a shrine that boasts a spring of healing water, as the Wilkens family learned. It is a spiritual experience, bringing healing and wholeness in unexpected ways.

Awakening at Lourdes is a timely read during National Marriage Week, and as we prepare to celebrate the February 11 feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image: Stencil

This article contains Amazon affiliate links. Your purchase through these links supports FranciscanMom.com at no cost to you.

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

An Open Book: February 2022

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

I think I’ve finally flunked out of Goodreads, but I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of books I’ve read in 2022 in hopes that I won’t have to scroll through my Kindle at the end of every month to compile this list. In January I read 13 books. I’m only going to be sharing the ones that merit 4 or 5 stars (it’s a shame that only 6 of the 13 I read this month will make it onto this list). And you might get the Amazon synopsis, not mine.

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

Fiction

If I Were You by Lynn Austin. 4 stars. A stolen-identity story beginning in World War II-era England during the Blitz. There’s a sequel, but it wasn’t as good. Synopsis: 1950. In the wake of the war, Audrey Clarkson leaves her manor house in England for a fresh start in America with her young son. As a widowed war bride, Audrey needs the support of her American in-laws, whom she has never met. But she arrives to find that her longtime friend Eve Dawson has been impersonating her for the past four years. Unraveling this deception will force Audrey and Eve’s secrets—and the complicated history of their friendship—to the surface.
1940. Eve and Audrey have been as different as two friends can be since the day they met at Wellingford Hall, where Eve’s mother served as a lady’s maid for Audrey’s mother. As young women, those differences become a polarizing force . . . until a greater threat—Nazi invasion—reunites them. With London facing relentless bombardment, Audrey and Eve join the fight as ambulance drivers, battling constant danger together. An American stationed in England brings dreams of a brighter future for Audrey, and the collapse of the class system gives Eve hope for a future with Audrey’s brother. But in the wake of devastating loss, both women must make life-altering decisions that will set in motion a web of lies and push them both to the breaking point long after the last bomb has fallen.

Neruda on the Park by Cleyvis Natera. 5 stars. I felt like I was right there watching this story happen. What a powerful debut novel! Synopsis: The Guerreros have lived in Nothar Park, a predominantly Dominican part of New York City, for twenty years. When demolition begins on a neighboring tenement, Eusebia, an elder of the community, takes matters into her own hands by devising an increasingly dangerous series of schemes to stop construction of the luxury condos. Meanwhile, Eusebia’s daughter, Luz, a rising associate at a top Manhattan law firm who strives to live the bougie lifestyle her parents worked hard to give her, becomes distracted by a sweltering romance with the handsome white developer at the company her mother so vehemently opposes. As Luz’s father, Vladimir, secretly designs their retirement home in the Dominican Republic, mother and daughter collide, ramping up tensions in Nothar Park, racing toward a near-fatal climax. (Netgalley)

The City Mother by Maya Sinha. 5 stars. Talk about a book hangover … this story, new from Chrism Press, stuck with me for a long time. This book takes on the idea of a city as a place to which young people gravitate because of its activity and opportunities, but which reveals its evil to a young mother seeking her own identity as she nurtures her little children. The lack of connection and community leaves Cara vulnerable to fall into postpartum depression and psychosis—but she doesn’t miss the reality right in front of her, a reality that no one else sees. Synopsis: Fresh out of college, small-town crime reporter Cara Nielsen sees disturbing things that suggest, for the first time in her life, that evil is real. But as the daughter of two secular academics, she pushes that notion aside. When her smart, ambitious boyfriend asks her to marry him and move to a faraway city, it’s a dream come true.
Four years later, confined to a city apartment with a toddler, Cara fears she is losing her mind. Sleeplessness, isolation, and postpartum hormones have altered her view of reality. Something is wrong in the lost, lonely world into which she’s brought a child. Visions hint at mysteries she can’t explain, and evil seems not only real—it’s creeping ever closer.
As her marriage falters and friends disappear, Cara seeks guidance from books, films, therapy, even the saints, when she’s not scrubbing the diaper pail. Meanwhile, someone is crying out for help that only she can give. Cara must confront big questions about reality and illusion, health and illness, good and evil—and just how far she is willing to go to protect those she loves.

 

YA/Children’s

A Kind of Paradise by Amy Rebecca Tan. 5 stars. First of all, it’s set in a library so it’s already off to a good start in my opinion! It hits some hot-button topics like bullying and PTSD, and is an excellent friendship story. I’d give this to readers 12 and up, in a heartbeat. Synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Jamie Bunn made a mistake at the end of the school year. A big one. And every kid in her middle school knows all about it. Now she has to spend her summer vacation volunteering at the local library—as punishment. What a waste of a summer!
Or so she thinks.
An unforgettable story about the power of community, the power of the library, and the power of forgiveness.

The Edge of In Between by Lorelei Savaryn. 5 stars. A beautifully told allegory on grief and the afterlife for middle-grade readers. Young readers need tools for processing difficult realities, and story can help provide them. Lorelei Savaryn’s tale explores the impact of grief on a preteen who feels helpless to do anything but follow the lead of the only adults around to care for her after the sudden death of her parents. The deeply intuitive Lottie recognizes that something is wrong when she’s asked to accept a life in In Between, the stage of the afterlife that precedes Ever After (heaven)—because as a living being, she does not belong there. But all she wants is to be reunited with her deceased parents. She discovers others in the same position, and ultimately is called upon to stand against what she knows is wrong and make a life-giving choice, even when that means she will have to defer her own desires.
While the author notes that the book is a nod to The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, I also saw some elements that reminded me of Oscar Wilde’s “The Selfish Giant.” Coming April 19. (Netgalley)

Nonfiction

The Lazy Genius Kitchen: Have What You Need, Use What You Have, and Enjoy It Like Never Before by Kendra Adachi. 5 stars. This book will be particularly useful to novice cooks or newly independent young adults, but anyone can benefit from the common-sense information in this book. The tone is casual and friendly, never condescending. And readers can take as deep a dive as they like into meal planning, setting up cooking and food storage zones, and the other topics covered in this book. The book’s design complements the information well, with colorful touches throughout, places to take notes as you go, cute graphics, and plenty of useful cross-referencing. It’s a home cook’s guide to working smarter, not harder. Highly recommended! Coming March 22. (Advance copy received from publisher)

On the TBR Pile

I’m either in the middle of these books or looking to get started on them ASAP.

Reclaiming Vatican II: What it (really) said, what it means, and how it calls us to renew the Church by Fr. Blake Britton. There’s so much online debate about the Council, and I want to know what it really is there to teach me. (Advance copy received from publisher)

Beginning Well: 7 Spiritual Practices for the First Year of Almost Anything by Joel Stepanek. I love any book that talks about doing a thing for a year, but this one is a new twist on it: this is the book that helps you navigate the transition to doing a new thing, getting through that first year. (Advance copy received from publisher)

Ex Libris: From the Writings of Edith Stein, compiled by Dianne M. Traflet. I haven’t read anything by St. Edith Stein, and this little book contains 29 brief readings to introduce this writer and philosopher to people like me! If I start this today and read one selection each day, I’ll finish it by Lent. (Advance copy received from publisher)

The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander. Another classic spiritual writer whose work I haven’t read. This book contains meditations on the humanity of Mary, Mother of God. I think it will be a good Lenten read for me. (Advance copy received from publisher, and I bought it for Kindle as well, for a spiritual read on the go!)


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.

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 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

The Word on Fire Bible: Acts, Letters, and Revelation

Word on Fire Ministries has completed the New Testament of The Word on Fire Bible with the publication of Acts, Letters, and RevelationLike the first volume, The Word on Fire Bible: The Gospels, this is a richly detailed Bible that contains much more than the portion of the Bible its title indicates. How much more? The book, at 841 pages, is measurably thicker than the first volume, with twice as much commentary to accompany the Scripture it includes.

 

Word on Fire Bible

 

You can use The Word on Fire Bible for reading, study, and prayer. It’s packed with commentary by saints and scholars; for example, 1 Corinthians features commentary from St. John Henry Newman, St. John Chrysostom, René Girard, Origen, Thomas Merton, G.K. Chesterton, St. Maximus the Confessor, Tertullian, St. Augustine, St. Irenaeus, St. Ambrose, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Flannery O’Connor, Wilfred Rowland Childe, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Fulton Sheen, Dante, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Hans Urs von Balthasar. Plus, essays by Bishop Robert Barron appear throughout that epistle. All of that, in addition to the sacred art and lettered embellishments that appear throughout, contribute to the book’s large size but make it an extremely useful edition of these New Testament books.

In an introductory essay, Bishop Robert Barron notes:

The Church has realized from the beginning that we need assistance if we are to read the Scriptures with profit. We require precisely the interpretive lens provided by the great scholars, saints, mystics, popes, and prophets who have gone before us—those who have, in the course of time, been recognized as masters of the sacred writings. (17)

 

 

At the beginning of this volume, icons depicting each of the books included are introduced. These icons relate to the content of the books, and are another example of the attention to every single detail in the publication of this Bible: details that make this a Bible that will appeal to readers who are new to the faith, questioning the faith, or longtime faithful.

Unlike many other Bibles available today, the Word of God is presented in single-column format. The font is large and easy to read. A different font is used for the commentaries and essays, which are also presented on light-colored backgrounds to set them apart from Scripture. Essays and commentaries take the place of the footnotes you often find in other Bibles. The Word on Fire Bible uses the New Revised Standard Version–Catholic Edition (NRSV-CE).

 

 

 

This Bible is available in three formats: leatherbound, hardcover, and paperback. The leatherbound version which I received feels sturdy but not stiff, immediately comfortable in my hands. It’s heavy, but I expect that from a Bible anyway, and has a very inviting feel—I just wanted to keep on reading it. That’s probably the best endorsement an edition of the Bible can get. For anyone interested in exploring the Bible, this is a beautiful, gift-quality edition.

The Word on Fire Bible: Acts, Letters, and Revelation is available beginning January 17, 2022. Visit WordOnFire.org/Bible2 and sign up to be notified when ordering opens.

Take a tour of this new Bible:

 

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Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photos copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.