On Barb’s Bookshelf: Holy Hacks

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

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

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

holy hacks

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 1: Living the Holy Hack Life

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

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

Chapter 2: Holy Hacks for Humility

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

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

Chapter 3: Hacks for Holy Relationships

Sacrifice your own preferences for someone else’s.

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

Chapter 4: Holy Prayer Hacks

Sing a hymn.

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

Chapter 5: Holy Hacks for Spiritual Protection

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

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

Chapter 6: Holy Hacks for Evangelizing

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

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

Chapter 7: Holy Hacks Against Gossip

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

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

Chapter 8: Holy Hacks from Catholics in the Media

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

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

Chapter 9: Holy Hacks for Lent

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

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

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

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

We do this, and always have!

Who should read this book?

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


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

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On Barb’s Bookshelf: Four for Lent

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

One for the Family

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

One for Your Teen

lent one day at a time

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

One for the Worrier (like me!)

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

One for the Whole Year

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

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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

#OpenBook: January 2019 Reads

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The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. I didn’t get a lot of reading done in January because I let one giant nonfiction book (see below) occupy most of my reading time.

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

Fiction

just look upJust Look Up by Courtney Walsh. In a novel that’s an indictment of a high-powered workaholic lifestyle, Courtney Walsh tells the story of Lane, an interior designer who’s on the verge of making it big in the big city after running away from the betrayals she felt in her family and hometown. Called home when her brother is involved in a serious accident, Lane is forced to examine her personal and professional priorities. A good story, and I liked the setting of Lane’s hometown.

loves choiceLove’s Choice by Liwen Y. Ho (First Street Church Romances. A sweet story about a young pregnant woman who’s kicked out by her abusive boyfriend and returns home, only to run into the high-school boyfriend who still carries a torch for her. He’s a little TOO perfect, and the religious part felt forced (do people really talk like that?) but it’s a hopeful read just the same.

mistletoe kissMistletoe Kiss by Andrea Boyd. Friends since childhood, Rae and Chase kiss under the mistletoe at an amusement park’s attempt to break a world record. Then they both discover that maybe they don’t want to be just friends – but neither of them knows how to take the next step. Cute Christmas story.

YA/Children’s

i am god's storyteller coverI Am God’s Storyteller by Lisa M. Hendey. This picture book is a celebration of each child’s — each person’s — God-given creativity and an encouragement to use that creativity to share the Good News with others. The writing is almost lyrical in its cadence and lends itself wonderfully to a read-aloud. And the illustrations by Eric Carlson are fun and inviting, yet not garish. Read my full review. (ARC received from the publisher).

Nonfiction

prairie fires

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser. A well-researched tome (500 pages BEFORE the footnotes) covering the time before Laura’s birth to present day, but not without considerable political bias. The author’s tone indicates scorn or resentment toward Rose’s political leanings. It doesn’t seem like the author likes or admires Laura. While hagiography isn’t necessary, neither is the almost gleeful digging into the Ingalls and Wilder families’ dirt. Normally I don’t cover books in this space if I wouldn’t give them at least 3 stars out of 5, but I’m making an exception because I grew up a big fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who enjoyed the children’s books for what they are: one person’s memoirs written as fiction for a young audience.


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

On Barb’s Bookshelf: I am God’s Storyteller

i am god's storyteller cover

Lisa M. Hendey’s new picture book, I am God’s Storyteller, coming February 12 from Paraclete Press, has an important message for its young audience as well as those who read the book aloud to the children in their lives:

God gave me eyes to see, a heart to feel, a mind to ponder, and gifts and talents to share his stories in my own way.

It’s a beautiful message, beautifully presented. The writing is almost lyrical in its cadence and lends itself wonderfully to a read-aloud. And the illustrations by Eric Carlson are fun and inviting, yet not garish.

Readers of this book will be treated to a little bit of Bible history as the people who told God’s story through their lives and witness are chronicled: Moses, Sarah, King David, and Isaiah in the Old Testament; and New Testament figures including Jesus, Mary, and the disciples.

Then the book shifts the focus to us: it’s our mission to be God’s storytellers too. Lisa encourages children to tell God’s story in varied ways.

We don’t have to be grownups to be storytellers. Remember how much Jesus loved sharing his stories with children?

I am God’s Storyteller is a celebration of each child’s — each person’s — God-given creativity and an encouragement to use that creativity to share the Good News with others. It’s also an affirmation that each of us has unique talents, and all of those talents are valuable: writing, creating visual art, singing, dancing, inventing games, acting — all of these ways of using the imagination can help us tell God’s story.

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Copyright 2019 Lisa M. Hendey and Eric Carlson. Used with the kind permission of Paraclete Press. All rights reserved.

An author’s note at the end of the book urges parents, teachers, and caregivers to foster children’s creativity and love of reading in a variety of concrete ways. But the message for parents, grandparents, and other adults goes beyond that one page: we’re never too young — or too old — to share the Good News with the world around us, and God has given each of us a specific ability and mission to do just that.


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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

Read-alouds for Snowy Days

read-alouds for snowy days

January’s almost over, but that doesn’t mean the end of winter is here. We’re all waiting for the groundhog to see his shadow (or not) and predict the coming of spring, and you probably don’t wanna build another snowman. Instead, snuggle up with your little ones and their favorite warm blanket and enjoy these new read-alouds! (I mixed in one activity book, just for some extra fun.)

little prayers for little onesLittle Prayers for Little Ones by Patricia Edward Jablonski, FSP, and illustrated by Becky Fawson, uses rhyme to teach children about different types of prayer: adoration, supplication (contrition is included in this section), intercession, thanksgiving, and praise. This board book encourages young children to pray often:

And God made me! I am special and loved! I am a child of my Father above!
My Father listens to all that I say. I talk to God. I can pray every day.

Each section of the book provides examples of how and when a child might talk to God using this type of prayer. A note to parents, guardians, and teachers at the end of the book explains that teaching children to pray spontaneously sets the stage for them to learn the traditional prayers of the Church as they grow. (Pauline Books & Media)

word of the lordThe Word of the Lord, a new board book by Katie Warner, illustrated by Meg Whalen, is a first book of Scripture verses for very young children. Simple, colorful illustrations accompany each Scripture verse. Take advantage of small children’s ability to memorize their favorite books: they’ll soon know beautiful passages from Scripture by heart (and so will you!). The verses included in the book are ordered as they appear in Scripture, beginning with Exodus 20:12 and ending with Philippians 4:4. (TAN Books)

i pray every dayI Pray Every Day, by Patricia Edward Jablonski, FSP (the same author who wrote Little Prayers for Little Ones) and illustrated by Mary Elizabeth Tebo, FSP, is designed to help primary readers learn to pray throughout the day. The children depicted in the book pray upon waking up, before and after meals, when they are sick, if they’ve done something wrong, and all throughout the day. Samples of spontaneous prayer are included, and at the end of the book, there’s a section of special prayers: the Sign of the Cross, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be. (Pauline Books & Media)

i pray the massThis author also wrote I Pray the Mass for the same age group. The book begins with a map of the world, explaining that all over the world, Catholics go to Mass. Next, the child is walked through various aspects of Mass: the Sign of the Cross at the holy-water font,smiling at family and friends who are also attending Mass, the entrance rite, the Liturgy of the Word, the homily and Creed, the Presentation of the Gifts, the Consecration, the Our Father, the sign of peace, receiving Communion, and thanksgiving and recessional. Each of these is described in the book and has a short spontaneous prayer the child can read and pray. The section on Communion is especially directed toward children who have not yet received the sacrament:

It is time to receive Jesus’ Body in the host, and Jesus’ Blood from the chalice.
When I am old enough, I can receive Jesus too! …
I pray:
Jesus, I love you very much! Amen.

With cute illustrations by Mernie Gallagher-Cole, this book is perfect for children in kindergarten and first grade who are curious about what’s happening at Mass. Read it with them during the week, then let them bring the book to church to focus their attention on the different parts of Mass. (Pauline Books & Media)

sword and capeChildren who love superheroes and action stories will be enthralled by the exciting tale about St. Martin of Tours, The Sword and the Cape, by Pamela Love. This picture book for young readers introduces young Martin, whose family expected him to become a Roman soldier but who instead wanted to follow Jesus. Readers will be surprised at the way Martin uses his sword — and then about Martin’s dream the following night! The book ends with a one-page biography of the saint and a prayer to St. Martin of Tours that children can pray. (Pauline Books & Media)

jorge argentinaElementary readers can learn all about what Pope Francis’ life was like before he became Pope by reading Jorge from Argentina: The Story of Pope Francis for Children. Written by Marlyn Monge, FSP, and Jaymie Stuart Wolfe, and with an introduction geared to the young reader by Cardinal Séan O’Malley, OFM Cap., this book begins with the wedding of Mario and Regina Bergoglio and even includes a pronunciation guide for names and places. Readers will learn about the Pope’s early life as a big brother, a child in school, a First Communicant, and his realization that he was called to serve God as a priest. Highlights from the Pope’s days as a priest and bishop follow, and the book concludes with Francis’ election as Pope and his first World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. (Pauline Books & Media)

fun with angelsGrab the crayons and colored pencils: the Fun with Angels coloring and activity book is packed with 64 pages of word searches, coloring pages, seek-and-find puzzles, mazes, codes, and more, all coming together to teach children about the ways in which God has sent angels to help people since the beginning of time – concluding with a lesson about our own guardian angels. (Pauline Books & Media)

Storybooks like these make excellent gifts for baptisms, Valentine’s Day, and even Easter baskets, if you’re thinking that far ahead.


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

#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

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.