Open Book: September 2018 Reads

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

Fiction

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!

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 driver to 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)

end of the worldThe End of the World by Amy Matayo. When Cameron shows up on the doorstep of his new foster home, he’s greeted by a slightly-older teenage girl who tries to help him survive the awful circumstances he’s just entered. Shaya is bossy, but that’s all a cover she uses to keep it together in a horrific situation. Cameron joins Shaya in caring for the younger 3 children in the home and finding a place where the two of them can pretend that none of this is happening. This is not your typical foster-home horror story, though there’s plenty of that in this novel. Instead, it’s a story of resilience, of missed opportunities, of brokenness so deep that there seems little chance for wholeness. Warning: this story will shatter your heart. But it’s well worth it.

curve in the roadA Curve in the Road by Julianne MacLean. Lots of suspense in this quick-to-read novel. Abbie’s perfect life is shattered when she’s seriously injured in a car wreck by a drunk driver — and family secrets she never knew come to light. Her whole life changes in a matter of seconds. I usually don’t feel I can relate to characters who have perfect lives, but maybe because Abbie’s life stops being perfect in the very first chapter, it was different this time. I had trouble putting this book down.

wideness of the seaThe Wideness of the Sea by Katie Curtis. Twentysomething artist Anna Goodrich lives and works in New York, putting distance between herself and her father, since their relationship has become complicated after her mother’s death. She doesn’t want to live her life bound by his expectations that she’ll follow in her mother’s footsteps as a famous artist. Her return to her Maine hometown for her uncle’s funeral brings up old hurts, including an old romance; at the same time, she learns she’s been invited to show her work at a prestigious art show that would blow her cover. An enjoyable read.

GIRLS AT 17The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib. A truly intense novel written from the point of view of a young married woman with anorexia. Anna is a dancer in Paris, but an injury ends her career and she becomes obsessed with staying thin. Add in the depression resulting from her relocation to the USA for her husband’s job and some childhood tragedies, and Anna winds up in a residential treatment facility for women with eating disorders. The author makes the thought process of the patient with anorexia painfully real. (Netgalley review)

beach windsBeach Winds (Emerald Isle NC #2) by Grace Greene. This story feels like it starts in the middle; Frannie is tasked with taking care of her uncle’s house while he recovers from a stroke. She hires a handyman to paint and repair things, but what’s really in need of repair is her own self-esteem once she finds out she’s being gaslighted and lied to about her childhood.

castles in the cloudsCastles in the Clouds (Flowers of Eden #2) by Myra Johnson. This novel follows an infatuated Lark as she follows her handsome professor to Africa to teach in a mission school; let down professionally and romantically, she must find a way to make a difference in a small Southern town during the Depression.

YA/Children’s

harrietHarriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I read this countless times as a kid, and just reread it after some authors were discussing it online. If Harriet the Spy were walking around today, she’d probably use Instagram or Snapchat. But this book would make a great lead-in to a discussion of cyberbullying, boundaries, and where we keep private thoughts private. This favorite from my childhood stands the test of time.

Nonfiction

Book CoverIt’s OK to Start with You by Julia Hogan. This not the kind of self-help book that works from the assumption that you’re doing this on your own. Hogan writes from a Catholic point of view, and she includes mental, emotional, social, and spiritual self-care in her whole-person look at this topic. (Review copy received from publisher.) Read my full review.

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

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

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

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

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Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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On Barb’s Bookshelf: 5 Advent Devotionals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 for Advent


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

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Geeking Out Over Timelines

Geeking Out Over Timelines

When you’re interested in the study of history, there’s nothing like a timeline to help you get everything in order. Kids, parents, and teachers will all benefit from two new books that give the visual learner (like me) plenty to geek out over: The Great Adventure Catholic Bible and The Church Rocks!

Begin at the Beginning

The 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:

  • Early World
  • Patriarchs
  • Egypt & Exodus
  • Desert Wanderings
  • Conquest & Judges
  • Royal Kingdom
  • Divided Kingdom
  • Exile
  • Return
  • Maccabean Revolt
  • Messianic Fulfillment
  • The Church

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Each of these sections has its own color, and every page of the Bible has a band of that color to help keep you on track as you read. Key events are marked with a box with extra information at the top of the page and a symbol within the text that corresponds to the box. There are ample footnotes and a mini-concordance at the bottom of each page. Jesus’ words are in red type. Every feature of this Bible is designed to help the reader place events in history, understand their significance, and learn why the message still matters today.

This Bible is colorful without being juvenile and uses the Revised Standard Version – Second Catholic Edition translation. The cover is blue vinyl with gold lettering and an embossed compass logo, and there are even two page-marker ribbons.

The Great Adventure Catholic Bible would make an excellent Confirmation gift. I’m really impressed with all the useful features and historical information.

History and Heritage

Beginning with Pentecost, the “birthday of the Church,” and ending with the New Evangelization, Sister Mary Lea Hill, FSP, has put together a history of the Catholic Church that will appeal to kids, teens, and the adults in their lives.

The Church Rocks! (I see what the author did there) is a century-by-century look at Church history that covers everything from stained glass to saints. It’s clever without being irreverent and definitely takes the “boring” out of historical study, providing a clear sense of time and place to Church events.

Each chapter begins with a timeline that lists major events in that century. In addition to the chapter’s narrative, readers will find an “I Witness” paragraph, written from the point of view of someone from that time period; this will grab the attention of younger readers (grades 3 to 5). Older students (grades 5 and up) will appreciate “More than the Facts,” “Latest and Greatest,” and “On the Record,” all of which offer more information on special topics, events, or important people. For further research, “Mystery of History” suggests topics for study. There’s also a writing prompt, vocabulary builder, and prayer in each chapter. “The Bigger Picture” closes out each chapter by placing that century in historical context and setting up what’s to come in the next century.

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Packed with black-and-white reproductions of famous art from the time, pictures of saints, and a useful index, this book would make a useful classroom tool and will intrigue history buffs of all ages.

Take a peek at the inside of this fascinating book:


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Amazon links are included in this post. I received review copies of both these books, but no other compensation, from the publishers. Opinions expressed here are mine.

“It’s OK to Start with You” and Physical Self-Care

Self Care

It’s not selfish to take good care of yourself.

Why is that so difficult for us to understand? I’m no exception — especially when it comes to physical self-care. (Which is why I thought it was hilarious when author Julia Hogan invited me to help introduce her new book, It’s OK to Start with You, by concentrating on physical self-care.)

When it comes to taking care of myself physically, I’m the poster child for excuses. I’ll get all that out of the way right now. Hogan enumerates four ways we take care of ourselves physically:

  • Sleep. I’m a poor sleeper, and often I’m woken up in the night by TheKid’s glucose monitor — he’s not a poor sleeper, so he sleeps through those alarms. There I am at 4 AM, rummaging in the fridge for apple juice. On the plus side, I know I can’t function well with little sleep, so I do make the effort to get to bed well before 10 PM, since I wake up at 5 AM. I don’t see much I can change here.
  • Nutrition. Yes, I have a food blog that features nutrition labels for every recipe so people with diabetes or other dietary issues can get carb counts. I also have the remains of a 4-pound bag of M&Ms in my desk drawer. That’s a problem.
  • Exercise. I thought I’d make a commitment to exercising for the week leading up to this article. Later that day, as I was walking (to get ice cream … I was on vacation!) my left knee buckled under me, so I slowly made my way back to where we were staying, without any ice cream, and I’m not going to be taking any power walks around the neighborhood anytime soon. Even with the knee brace, it’s hurting.
  • Body image. Now, this I can work on, sore knee and all. No excuses.

To be honest (and if nothing else, this book is all about honesty), I think the area of body image is the one where I need the most help. Other issues (except for sleep) stem from that.

Why don’t I take better care of myself?

For one, I’m lazy. Self-care takes time. But Hogan notes, “the way we treat ourselves betrays what we really think of ourselves” (20).

OUCH.

She’s right.

I like that Hogan, right up front, emphasizes that self-care is not an excuse to behave selfishly (11). Self-indulgence is not self-care, but we’ve all fallen into the trap of thinking we deserve that pumpkin-spice latte or new pair of shoes to reward ourselves for merely getting through the day or the week.

I have a long way to go.

“Instead of aiming for ‘perfection,’ aim for appreciating the body you have been given and the amazing things it can do” (76).

While my body can’t do all the amazing things right now because of that knee injury, and it may never look picture-perfect since I’m 53 and, um, allergic to exercise, it’s nurtured three children and can still, even with a knee injury, do the laundry and go to the supermarket to get fresh vegetables for dinner. (I might milk it a bit when it comes to housecleaning, though.)

This is a book you’re meant to write in. I didn’t only write in mine — I underlined those points that I’m going to need to reread until they sink in. Or until I let them sink in. There are places in the book to work through self-care action plans. I decided to focus on two physical areas, and I chose steps that I thought were realistic and measurable.

My 3-step plan to improve body image:

  • Work on my wardrobe. If it doesn’t fit and flatter, it’s out. I made an appointment for a clothing-donation pickup and have already filled three bags. I’ll try on skirts and pants when moving is a little easier. Also, I want to reserve sweatpants for exercising and relaxing at home. If I’m going to leave the house, I should look better than that.
  • Get a haircut. I looked back in my planner. My last haircut was June 6.
  • Moisturize. I don’t do makeup. And I usually skip basic skin care too.

[Put] in the necessary time and effort to groom and dress in a way that communicates your worth (77-78).

My 3-step plan for better nutrition:

  • Eat more protein – add a protein source to every meal.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables – add a fruit/vegetable/both to every meal.
  • Stop eating junk food in the office. I’ll eat less junk if I have to go downstairs to get it. I’ll leave a jar of mixed nuts in the office in case I need a snack. But I’m removing the M&Ms from my desk.

Make a conscious decision rather than letting your emotions decide when (and what) you eat (71).

Check out the YouTube playlist to get a full week of self-care challenges:

It’s OK to Start with You isn’t the kind of book you devour in one sitting, and it’s not the kind of self-help book that works from the assumption that you’re doing this on your own. Hogan writes from a Catholic point of view, and she includes mental, emotional, social, and spiritual self-care in her whole-person look at this topic.

Learn more by following author Julia Hogan on Facebook and Instagram. And don’t miss the contest on Instagram: you can win a copy of this book! To enter, visit the Instagram blog tour post and comment with the new self-care practice you will try. Contest ends Friday, September 14th, 2018 and the winner will be chosen at random on Monday, September 17th, 2018.


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

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Fiction and Fun for Summer

Here are 5 summer reading picks for readers of all ages.

For the Kids: A Staircase for the Sisters by Pamela Love

staircase for the sisters

Inspired 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.

For the Kids: The Pope’s Cat by Jon M. Sweeney

popes cat

Jon M. Sweeney’s chapter book for independent readers, The Pope’s Cat, recounts the story of Margaret, a stray cat who is adopted by the Pope (who likes to take early-morning walks outside the Vatican). Through Margaret, readers will get a peek at the daily life of the Pope, including a meeting with the Queen of England! Will Margaret be able to sneak past the Swiss Guard to join her new friend, the Pope, at dinner with the Queen? Cute illustrations accompany this story — and I hear that a sequel is coming this fall!

For Teens and Adults: Black Bottle Man by Craig Russell

black bottle man

Can a novel be both chilling and enjoyable at once? Black Bottle Man, the tale of a young boy caught up in a Faustian bargain, manages that feat. Alternating in time from Rembrandt’s younger days through his ninetieth year, the novel slowly fills in the blanks of a deal with the devil that turned a whole family’s life upside-down and left Rembrandt alone in the world and unable to stay in one place longer than 12 days. Imagine being homeless and always on the move for 80 years! YA novel recommended for high-school age and up.

For Teens and Adults: Bound by Vijaya Bodach

bound

High-school senior Rebecca can’t wait to go away to college — far away, where she can leave behind her father, who’s retreated into his work after her mom’s death last year, and her developmentally-disabled older sister. Rebecca, who was burned over 50% of her body as a preteen, is still dealing with surgeries and treatments for the burn scars and can’t remember the accident that caused the fire. But Rebecca’s dad isn’t dealing with Joy’s needs, leaving Rebecca to make decisions far beyond her years. When Joy becomes pregnant, the family is forced to rework this unhealthy dynamic. This engaging story is a sensitive treatment of prolife themes including abortion, end-of-life issues, and eugenics. Appropriate for teenagers, Bound would make an excellent classroom read.

For Grownups: Unveiling by Suzanne M. Wolfe

unveiling

Unveiling, a luxurious read from Paraclete Press, is a story that was easy to dive into — and tough to stop reading. My only complaint? It wasn’t long enough! Assigned to Rome to restore a mysterious medieval painting, Rachel leaves her life in New York behind, along with a bitter divorce and a childhood trauma that’s left a mystery to the reader until she is no longer able to bury the secret she’d rather keep hidden. Meanwhile, Rachel and her team work against the looming threat that the art will be removed from the church after restoration is complete. My favorite part involved the question of the identity of the artist behind the beautiful painting Rachel was restoring, and this book made me want to discover more about religious art.
Barb's Book shelf blog title


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of these books (except BOUND, which I purchased), but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: A Short-Story Anthology for Teens from CatholicTeenBooks

A brand-new #1 new release on Amazon is a terrific introduction to the work of 7 Catholic authors! Secrets: Visible and Invisible, a short-story collection compiled by CatholicTeenBooks.com, reached #1 in the “Values and Virtues Fiction for Teens” category in its first 24 hours!

I’m very familiar with the work of many of the authors whose stories are featured here: Carolyn Astfalk, T.M. Gaouette, Theresa Linden, Cynthia T. Toney, and Leslea Wahl. Two other authors are new to me: Susie Peek and Corinna Turner — and I’ll definitely be taking a look at these authors’ full-length work after getting a taste of their writing.

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Here’s a bit about the 7 stories you’ll find in this anthology:

  • In a dystopian future, an innocent picnic turns deadly!
  • Elijah knows nothing of an elderly stranger’s secret past — until her disappearance changes everything.
  • A mysterious, ever-changing painting alarms a group of teens.
  • A cannonball took Dario’s legs … Will he lose his soul too?
  • The arrival of a mysterious girl challenges everything about Jason’s life.
  • An unlicensed driver. His dad’s truck. What could possibly go wrong?
  • An old tale of murder and forbidden love leads to a modern-day treasure hunt.

As a rule, I don’t endorse a book I haven’t read. I’m proud to endorse Secrets and I’ll state right now that I’ll definitely be reading it again. Here’s my endorsement:

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.

This book is appropriate for readers in middle-school and up, and would be an excellent addition to a school or classroom library. As described by Mark Hart of Life Teen International, who provides the foreword, “Each story reveals something different about the human heart and our constant (though, often veiled) desire for truth and virtue.”

Want to win a copy for your teen?

Enter the blog tour giveaway!

Visit the other stops on the Blog Tour for more chances to win:

Blog Tour Schedule:

July 4              Steve McEvoy                        Book Reviews and More

July 5              Leslea Wahl                            Leslea Wahl

July 6              Barb Szyszkiewicz                 Franciscan Mom

July 7              Shower of Roses                     Shower of Roses

July 8              Carolyn Astfalk                      My Scribbler’s Heart

July 9              Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur  Spiritual Woman

July 9              Sarah Damm                           Sarah Damm

July 10            Corinna Turner                       Unseen Books

July 11            Christina Weigand                  Palace of Twelve Pillars

July 11            Virginia Lieto                         Virginia Lieto

July 12            Theresa Linden                       Things Visible & Invisible

July 13            T.M. Gaouette                        T.M. Gaouette

July 14            Karina Fabian                         Fabianspace

July 16            Therese Heckenkamp             Therese Heckenkemp

July 17            Ellen Gable Hrkach                Plot Line & Sinker

July 17            Barb Szyszkiewicz                 CatholicMom

July 18            Catholic Teen Books              Catholic Teen Books


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

#OpenBook: June 2018 Reads

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

Fiction

just in timeJust in Time by Marie Bostwick. Grace’s life revolves around her quilting hobby and caring for her husband, who’s been in a coma since a hiking accident on their honeymoon. Her friends from a grief support group stand by her and push her toward new adventures even as new crises in her work and personal life threaten the fragile balance of her life. Terrific characters.

not that I could tellNot That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser. A disturbing read about a group of young moms in a neighborhood and how they react to the sudden disappearance of one of their peers, who seems to have taken off, small children in tow, with no explanation. The resulting media circus seems to point to Kristin’s estranged husband, and others in the neighborhood must deal with their own crises. I’m not entirely sure the surprise ending works. (Netgalley review)

bound by brokennessBound by Brokenness (The Healing Season’s series #2) by This story is a continuation of a series; definitely these need to be read in order. Dr. Matthias Mason is injured while treating the people in the mountain region where he lives and works; his young assistant steps out of her comfort zone to take care of things while he cannot. Meanwhile, 12-year-old Samuel is left on his own to manage a household, the vegetable garden, and his schoolwork — and he finds himself embroiled in a bootlegging scandal while trying to protect a friend. Some anachronistic dialogue got in the way of the historical-fiction experience.

way life should beThe Way Life Should Be by Christina Baker Kline. Kind of farfetched, but good escape fiction: Angela’s friend convinces her to try online dating, but it doesn’t turn out quite as she expected and it has disastrous effects on her job. When she heads to Maine to either escape or start over (even she doesn’t know which) she finds a surprising way to start over. I almost didn’t purchase this because of the reviews I read on Amazon (people were upset that this wasn’t anything like Orphan Train, but I really enjoyed it).

every time you go awayEvery Time You Go Away by Beth Harbison. This novel reminded me a lot of the movie “Ghost.” Ben, who died prematurely, leaving a wife and teen son, comes back as a ghost to their beach house, a place his wife had avoided since he died there alone 3 years before. Willa has a lot of healing and grieving to do, and a lot of repairing of her relationship with her son. Predictable, but an enjoyable read. (Netgalley review)

sister circleThe Sister Circle (Sister Circle #1) by Vonette Bright & Nancy Moser. A sweet, if farfetched, story about a recent widow whose husband left her nothing but an enormous old home filled with antiques. She opens a boardinghouse, filling the rooms with 3 women with little in common except they all need a place to stay. The book’s Christian message is strong, veering toward the didactic at times. This is the first in a series, and it’s pretty clear that there’s going to be a discovery that two characters have an unexpected connection (I’m trying to avoid spoilers); honestly, that’s the only reason I purchased the second book in the series.

least expectedLeast Expected by Autumn MacArthur. This short novel takes place over the course of a week or two at Christmastime; a middle-aged store owner with an overbearing mother falls for the quirky, artistic freelance window decorator. It wraps up a little too neatly, of course, but it was a fun read that definitely had me hoping these two characters would get together.

Nonfiction

catholic baby namesCatholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys by Katherine Morna Towne. I was honored to be asked to endorse this book! Choosing a Marian name for your baby, or helping your teen select a Confirmation name, just got easier. Kate Towne takes the guesswork out of the naming process, offering hundreds of names and nicknames that refer to Mary or are used in her honor. Complete with feast-day information, a bit of history, and plenty of variations and cross-referencing, this guide to names that honor the Blessed Mother is fascinating and full of surprises. Read my full review.

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

followKatie Prejean McGrady’s Follow: Your Lifelong Adventure with Jesus invites young Catholics to get to know Jesus in practical ways. But it’s not for young Catholics only! There are only four chapters, but they’re comparatively long ones, divided into sections of a few pages each. These four chapters cover four important ways to build a relationship with Jesus: prayer, Scripture, sacraments, and service. There’s a lot of information in this book: the chapter on prayer, for example, includes the Litany of Humility, a list of all the mysteries of the Rosary, and extensive coverage of various ways to pray.

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

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


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

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

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Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys

New from Marian Press, CatholicMom.com contributor Katherine Morna Towne’s Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady is a treasury of information presented in an easy-to-use and visually beautiful format. I was honored to endorse this book:

Choosing a Marian name for your baby, or helping your teen select a Confirmation name, just got easier. Kate Towne takes the guesswork out of the naming process, offering hundreds of names and nicknames that refer to Mary or are used in her honor. Complete with feast-day information, a bit of history, and plenty of variations and cross-referencing, this guide to names that honor the Blessed Mother is fascinating and full of surprises.

catholic baby names

You may be surprised, as I was, to learn how many boys’ names honor Mary! One of my sons is named Luke (after Luke the Evangelist) and I learned quite a bit about that name’s origin.

Though Luke looks as though it would be related to the Luc- names (Lucian, Lucy), which have to do with light and can refer to Our Lady of Light, it’s actually unrelated, referring instead to a person from the southern Italian region of Lucania. Such was the meaning behind the name of St. Luke the Evangelist, and it’s he who gives this name a Marian character. The Gospel of Luke is intensely Marian, containing the accounts of the Annunciation and the Visitation; the prophecy that Our Lady’s heart would be pierced by a sword; the first half of the Hail Mary; and Our Lady’s beautiful canticle of praise, the Magnificat.

Nicknames: Lolek (suggested by one of my readers as a nickname for Luke that can also acknowledge St. John Paul, as it was his childhood nickname), Lou, Lucky, Lukey

Variants: Luca (various), Lucas (various), Luka (various)

Feast days: March 25 (Annunciation)
May 31 (Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
September 15 (Our Lady of Sorrows)
October 18 (St. Luke the Evangelist)

See also: Addolorata (g), Angustias (g), Annunziata (g), Ave (g), Dolores (g), Elizabeth (g), Gabriel, Gabriela (g), John Paul, Magnificat (g), Nunzio, Piedad (g), Pierce, Pieta (g), Simeon, Visitación (g), Tristan

There’s so much in there! For some names, you’ll find fascinating inside stories. It’s fun to just page through the book and look up the names of family members and friends to find the Marian connections behind them. Unlike many baby name books, this isn’t simply an index of names with short notes about their meanings.

Because I definitely judge a book by its cover (and its interior), I can’t help but note how the design of Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys complements the content. The cover art, done in sweet pastels, contains plenty of references to the Blessed Mother but definitely calls to mind a baby blanket. Each page of the book is embellished with designs at the top and the bottom, surrounding the page number; these aren’t distracting at all — they’re beautiful touches.

This lovely book is a pleasure to read and would make a wonderful gift for expectant parents.

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.

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

New Summer Reading AVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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

My Summer Reading List at CatholicDigest.com

When I was in middle school, I used to read Catholic Digest when I visited my grandmother. Sometimes I’d poach her copies … sometimes I tried to do that before she finished reading it!

It’s my privilege now to work with the fine folks at Catholic Digest, since Today’s Catholic Teacher, where I’m the managing editor, shares the same publisher, editorial coordinator, and art director.

And it’s my privilege today to share my first-ever article for the Catholic Digest website — on one of my favorite topics: reading.

Check it out: Catholic Beach Reads: 16 Page-Turners for your Summer Vacation

If you’re interested in purchasing any of these books, I’ve listed them all on this Amazon page, so they’ll be easy to find. Note that this is an affiliate page, so your purchase benefits me as a writer.


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz