#OpenBook: Summer 2018

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

At the end of July I was preparing for my trip to the Catholic Writers Guild Conference (a combination of business, pleasure, and spiritual retreat), so this will cover the best of what I’ve read this summer. If I gave it 3 stars or better on Goodreads, it made this list.

Fiction

year of extraordinary momentsA Year of Extraordinary Moments by Bette Lee Crosby. The second book in Bette Lee Crosby’s “Magnolia Grove” series brings readers back to the small-town neighbors who feel friendly and familiar. Tracy is finally beginning to put her past behind her and has gotten help for her profoundly deaf young child. Complications arise when Dominic, her ex, shows up, summoned by his dying grandmother, who wants to do the right thing for her descendants. But Dominic’s grandmother, despite her serious and painful illness, has a heart of gold and a spine of steel. Tracy’s sister Meghan, the main character in the first book in the series, must come to terms with her own need to follow what she believes were her late father’s wishes. This story of family, love, healing, and strength is one you won’t want to put down — and you won’t want the book to end. Highly recommended. (Netgalley review, but I preordered this book months ago and I know I’ll reread it when it’s released October 16.)

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!

unveilingUnveiling, a luxurious read by Suzanne Wolfe 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. (Review copy received from publisher.)

still fallingStill Falling (Home in You 0.5) by Crystal Walton. In this prequel to the “Home in You” series, musician Bree finds she can’t run away from the violence from her old neighborhood as quickly as she ran away from her old block — and her old flame, who’s now a police officer hoping to make detective. Bree and Josh are thrown together again when her father comes under fire from the gang Bree hopes to help her brother escape. I enjoyed this whole series and wish I’d read the books in order!

fearedFeared (Rosato & DiNunzio #6) by Lisa Scottoline. Snark, suspense, and plenty of local color flavor Lisa Scottoline’s crime novels. While this is not my preferred genre, I’m a fan of this author’s newspaper columns and I enjoy her books because she’s heavy on the Philly connection. In this sixth book in the series (you don’t have to have read them all before reading this), a former neighbor’s vendetta threatens to take out the no-longer-all-female law firm, an associate is mysteriously murdered, and Rosato & DiNunzio just aren’t sure who can be trusted. Premature labor complicates matters further. Not to be missed: the Rosary Society invading the mobster’s mom’s home. (Netgalley review)

falling for youFalling for You (Bradford Sisters Romance #2) by Becky Wade. Will they or won’t they? Willow Bradford and her former boyfriend Corbin are thrown together by Corbin’s young niece, who wants them to help her find a long-lost aunt. Along the way, opportunities for romance abound, along with some danger as supermodel Willow is stalked by some over-the-top fans and the two of them discover the extent of an apparently squeaky-clean politician’s secret corruption. Another obstacle: Corbin’s father, Joe, is dying — and he doesn’t want Willow involved with his son. I wasn’t wowed by this novel; all the main characters and their boyfriends seem to be beautiful and have perfectly-perfect careers. But I enjoyed the character of Corbin’s niece — she’d be great in a YA spinoff!

good samGood Sam by Dete Meserve. A refreshing change in the mystery genre: there’s no dead body opening this story. Instead, the mystery revolves around who’s been leaving bags with $100K at people’s doors. LA TV-news reporter Kate, seeking to advance her career with this Big Story, finds a connection to her former fiance and risks losing the new guy in her life. Just because there’s no corpse doesn’t mean everyone’s motives are above board.

YA/Children’s

where you leadWhere You Lead by Leslea Wahl. In this fun-to-read romantic suspense novel for teens, Eve is prompted by an odd vision to goad her parents into a cross-country move. She can’t tell them the real reason: she knows she needs to help or protect the young man playing frisbee in front of a red castle. But when Eve engineers a chance to meet him, he (understandably) thinks she’s a crazy stalker. Soon the professor’s daughter and senator’s son find themselves embroiled in a mystery involving lost Civil War treasure — one that may have international implications in the present. It’s refreshing to read about teens who openly pray and who try to find out what God wants them to do, especially as this felt like a natural part of the story, not something forced. The dialogue and characters are real, and the cranky elderly neighbor provided comic relief. I was immediately drawn into this page-turner. (Review copy provided by author.)

boundBound by Vijaya Bodach. 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.

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.

born scaredBorn Scared by Kevin Brooks. A harrowing novel written from the point of view of a young boy/teen (?) who is afraid of EVERYTHING. His fear paralyzes him to an amazing degree. He can’t go anywhere. He’s almost all out of the only medication that even takes the edge off his terror, it’s Christmas Eve, and there’s a blizzard. His mom goes out to meet the friend who offered to pick up the prescription, but doesn’t return, so the terrified boy, in his desperation, ventures out in the storm to find her. The book is poetically written and absolutely gives words to the terror he feels. There were a few plot elements that weren’t very clear, but this is a good novel for the middle- and high-school reader and will generate good discussion about coping with fear and anxiety. (Netgalley review)

merci suarezMerci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina. Entering middle school is a challenge for any kid. Merci has extra obstacles to face: she’s a scholarship kid of a different race than most of her private-school classmates, she’s not super rich, and she’s noticing that something about her grandfather is not quite right anymore. Plus, her friends are starting to pair off into couples, and she’s not ready for that. Merci must face down classmates who’ll do anything to win, academically and socially. A good look at what it’s like to be a 6th-grader under a variety of pressures. (Netgalley review)

benefits of being an octopusThe Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden. Zoey, a middle-schooler, is charged with work beyond her years: caring for her three very young siblings while her mother works, trying to keep the kids fed (by any means necessary), and staying out of the way of her mom’s emotionally-abusive boyfriend. A caring teacher shows Zoey enough compassion mixed with demanding toughness to help Zoey realize that she has to take some action to help two vulnerable friends, her siblings, her mother, and herself. I would give this book 10 stars of out 5 if that were an option, and it is going to take me a long time to process everything I’ve read here. This is a YA book that any adult who deals with kids should read. It will be eye-opening for teachers and other school leaders. (Netgalley review)

louisianas way homeLouisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo. I devoured this middle-grade novel with a spunky main character whose voice reminded me very much of Junie B. Jones. Louisiana Elefante’s granny takes her on a journey in the middle of the night, abandoning their home and Louisiana’s friends and pets. Stranded in a Georgia town by Granny’s dental emergency, Louisiana discovers that she’ll need to find a way for herself in the world. This is a sweet story of unexpected kindnesses that would make a terrific movie. (Netgalley review)

everlasting noraEverlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz. Nora is a little girl who lives in a shantytown inside a Manila (Philippines) cemetery — she and her mother actually live inside the mausoleum where her father is buried. The book goes into extensive detail of what it’s like for the homeless who live in the cemeteries, which is a real thing in Manila. Nora and a friend try to find her mother, who disappeared one day, while Nora does her best to hold down the menial job she has to keep herself and her mother, a compulsive gambler, fed. This is an intense story with themes of addiction, organized crime, and violence. For middle-grade readers. (Netgalley review)

It looks like the big theme in YA/middle-grade this year is going to be kids living in home-insecure situations (either homeless or close to it.) I had 3 Netgalleys this summer on that subject alone.

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 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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On Barb’s Bookshelf: One Beautiful Dream

I binge-read my way through this book, and I’m not one bit guilty.

In One Beautiful Dream, Jennifer Fulwiler puts her insecurities right there on the page for all to see. That’s not news to anyone who’s followed her blog, but it might be news if the only way you know her work is through her first book, Something Other than God, or through her radio show on SiriusXM’s Catholic Channel.

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There’s vulnerability in every chapter this book, and that’s what makes it resonate with readers, no matter how much you have (or don’t have) in common with Jennifer. While she brings plenty of the dry wit she’s (deservedly) famous for, she also brings the wisdom — the lessons she has had to learn as a woman, as a mother, and as a professional.

There are lessons about trusting in God — and acting like you trust in God after you say you trust in God. There are lessons about judging others’ motives based on what you see on the outside. There are lessons about never letting fear control your decision-making.

If you read Something Other than God or listen to Jennifer’s radio show, while you’ll hear a lot about her “crazy” life with 6 homeschooled kids in a small house, you might still get the impression that confidence rules the day for her. And if you’re anything like me, you might get scared off a little, because confident people can have that effect on non-confident people.

One Beautiful Dream, though, is not about confidence. At all. It’s about realizing that you can’t do all the things, and that it’s OK to accept help, and that there are people who are good at the things you either can’t stand to do or just plain aren’t good at doing. When it comes right down to it, One Beautiful Dream is about humility. When we think we can have it all, that’s pride talking.

So here’s my recommendation: plan an easy dinner that involves 5 minutes of work time and 45 minutes to an hour of idle cook time. Pour yourself a cup of your favorite beverage, and find a comfortable chair. Then let yourself dive in, and don’t feel guilty for even a minute.

Let Jennifer Fulwiler encourage you as you step forward in vulnerability.
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Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Anyone But Him

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Theresa Linden’s newest Catholic novel, Anyone But Him, centers on the theme of forgiveness and making a new start. Some of my favorite characters from Roland West, Loner and the other novels in the West Brothers series 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. How could she be married to the man who’d tormented her good friend for so long?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.

anyone but hi

I like that Theresa Linden has continued the West Brothers series into the characters’ young adulthood, and that she’s framed this novel for the new-adult audience, which has protagonists and readers in the 18-30 age bracket. The first four West Brothers novels are for teens and young adults, but this one, I think, is better aimed at new-adult readers.

The West Brothers Series (in order)

Roland West, Loner (read my full review)
Life-Changing Love (read my full review)
Battle for His Soul
Standing Strong
Anyone But Him

About Theresa Linden

square theresaTheresa Linden is the author of award-winning Catholic teen fiction. Raised in a military family, she developed a strong patriotism and a sense of adventure. Her Catholic faith inspires the belief that there is no greater adventure than the reality we can’t see, the spiritual side of life. She has six published novels, and two short stories in Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body (Full Quiver Publishing). She holds a Catechetical Diploma from Catholic Distance University and is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild and the International Writers Society. A wife, homeschooling mom, and Secular Franciscan, she resides in northeast Ohio with her husband and three teenage boys. To learn more, visit TheresaLinden.com, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

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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.

Open Book: March 2018

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. I read several children’s/YA books, because friends had recommended them. Even though I’m no longer a volunteer in the school library or a teacher, I still enjoy books for middle-grade and YA readers.

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

Fiction

summer of new beginningsThe Summer of New Beginnings by Bette Lee Crosby. In this story that starts out with a Frank Capra-esque setup, Meghan gives up her ambition to be a journalist when her father dies just before she leaves for college. Instead, she runs the family’s coupon-clipper magazine while her flighty sister takes off for Philadelphia with her boyfriend. When Tracy returns a few years later, a single mom with a toddler in tow, the family must face the fact that the little boy has special needs. In the middle of all this, a puppy shows up and captures Meghan’s heart. As she always does, Bette Lee Crosby has created characters you’d love to get to know in person, in settings real enough to be the small town next door.

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)

life such as heaven intendedA Life Such as Heaven Intended by Amanda Lauer. When Brigid discovers a Confederate soldier unconscious on her family’s property, she takes great risks to hide and protect him until he can be brought to safety. These risks include opening her heart to the soldier, even though she intends to enter a convent soon. Brigid’s inadvertent involvement in the Underground Railroad sets the stage for the two to meet again. This Civil War romance novel is packed with secrets, intrigue, and a dash of faith. It’s the second in a series, but works as a standalone. (ARC received from publisher)

table for oneTable for One by Leah Atwood. This is a novella, and I’d gladly have read a full-length story about these characters. Lauren, who writes a blog dedicated to enjoying the single life, decides to invite herself to dine with a young man eating alone in a fancy restaurant. Trevor had taken his longtime girlfriend there, intending to propose, but instead he broke up with her. This clean romance features believable characters and dialogue that feels natural, though it’s a bit heavy-handed with its Christian angle. I’ll look for more from this author.

YA/Children’s

Princess-CoverOnce Upon a Princess by Christine Marciniak. Young fans of “The Princess Diaries” will enjoy the story of twelve-year-old princess Fritzi of Colsteinburg, whose first chance to attend a ball is capped off with danger when a coup is attempted against her father. Her mother, sister, and a bodyguard take her to the Boston, MA, area, where Fritzi tries to figure out what one middle-schooler can do to set things right in her country and reunite her family — all while navigating the usual middle-school pitfalls. She’s smart and feisty, but not prudent: qualities which will both help her and hurt her along the way. Full review coming Friday! (ARC received from author)

jolly reginaThe Jolly Regina (The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters #1) by Kara LaReau. This is a beautifully written book for middle-grade kids, packed with challenging vocabulary and an interesting, if strange, premise. Two little girls (of indeterminate age, but I’d guess about 11) have been home alone for years, supporting themselves by darning socks, and receiving grocery deliveries at the curb in front of their house. They do everything they can to keep things as stable and uneventful as possible and to stay under the radar — until one day a pirate kidnaps them and they find out they’ll have the chance to reunite with their adventuresome parents.

leap of faithLeap of Faith by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Abby learned the hard way that her parents not only don’t pay attention to her, they don’t hear her when she’s in distress. Her acting out gets her expelled from public school, so her parents enroll her in Catholic school — and then are distressed to find that she’s interested in the Faith. Abby decides to capitalize on this: to get her parents’ attention, she enrolls in RCIA, but doesn’t count on it making an impact on her. This book was a surprisingly sensitive look at an adolescent’s faith life. It’s from a mainstream publisher, but it’s not at all condescending to people of faith.

smart cookieSmart Cookie by Elly Swartz. A few years after her mom died, Frankie wants her dad to be happy — and she wants a mom for herself. In between her schoolwork and helping her dad and grandmother, who run a B&B, Frankie sets up a dating-service for her dad and sets out to screen potential mom candidates. Her former BFF is hiding something, there might be a ghost in the backyard shed, and her dad’s inn could be in danger. Frankie’s other friend Elliott is a great supporting character. This book is cleverly written and a lot of fun to read.

Nonfiction

good enoughGood Enough is Good Enough by Colleen Duggan. Subtitled “Confessions of an imperfect Catholic mom,” this book is surprising in many ways. You might think you’re getting humorous Tales from the Cry Room — and you wouldn’t be wrong — but there’s much more to this book than that. Colleen is open about the messiness of her life, from issues in her own childhood to the discovery that one of her children has a genetic disorder, because she wants to encourage other moms to move toward healing. This book is motivating, honest, heartbreaking, funny, and challenging. (ARC received from publisher)

futon j sheenFulton J. Sheen by Alexis Walkenstein. This is my first introduction to the work of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, and I found the selections highlighted in this book fascinating. My generation needs priests like Sheen, whose zeal for the Faith is evident on every page. Walkenstein chose excerpts from several of Sheen’s books, and has added journal prompts and a bibliography for readers who wish to dive more deeply into Sheen’s large body of written work. I definitely want to read more of his work. (ARC received from publisher)

our fatherOur Father: Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer by Pope Francis. Whether we reverently recite the words or sing them, they are the words that Jesus gave us. Spend a few minutes each day praying with this new book by Pope Francis. Read a paragraph or a chapter. Meditate on the wisdom you find there. And close by praying those words that Jesus gave us. A few hiccups in the translation, but overall a beautiful book. Read my full review. (ARC received from publisher)

Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Thank you for purchasing books via these links.

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!

open book new logo


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Open Book: January/February 2018

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. Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links.

I didn’t get this done for January, and it’s been so long since I’ve read some of the books on my list that I can’t say I remember anything about them, so those were not listed here.

Fiction

fathers sons holy ghosts of baseballFathers, Sons, and the Holy Ghosts of Baseball by Tommy Murray. A small rural Iowa Catholic high school in 1974 fields a baseball team that always makes it to the state finals but never wins the championship. The three elderly men (including the parish priest) who coach the team are determined that this will be the year they do win, and the coaches, all in frail health, are willing to risk everything to make that happen before they retire. The author did a wonderful job creating a sense of both character and place. My one issue with the novel was a throwaway scene (that neither advanced plot nor character) in which the priest “anoints” a woman to play priest in a nursing home. It didn’t work with the setting of the book, and it had nothing to do with the leadership the priest provided to the baseball team. Overall, this was a story that was easy to lose myself in. (Review copy)

wind that shakes the cornThe Wind that Shakes the Corn by Kaye Park Hinckley. An epic novel that follows an eighteenth-century young Irishwoman from her rural home to slavery in St. Kitts and eventually to the American colonies, where she lived through events leading up to the Revolutionary War as well as its aftermath. The theme of revenge runs strong through this novel, as Nell’s hatred of the British whose actions devastated both her family and her homeland runs strong. She and generations of descendants must live with the bitterness of their hunger for revenge, which never tastes as sweet as imagined.
Author Kaye Park Hinckley makes the characters and locations come alive for the reader, portraying a side of history, especially the slave trade, that is rarely depicted in novels and history books. Highly recommended. (Review copy)

paper heartsPaper Hearts by Courtney Walsh. This was a lovely novel — I didn’t want it to end. Abigail Pressman owns a bookshop/cafe in a small Colorado town, and she’s pretty much given up on love. When she decorates her store with some love notes written on paper hearts by an anonymous couple, she has no idea that these have a connection to her new landlord, a doctor whose business partner wants the bookstore closed so the medical practice can expand.

seven days of usSeven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak. A 368-page book that takes place over the course of a week? The action moves slowly for a reason: 6 people are stuck together in a shabby-chic (more shabby than chic) country home, waiting out the quarantine period for one family member who’s been providing medical assistance in Africa during a communicable-disease outbreak. Surprisingly, there was a good deal of suspense, thanks not only to the “will she or won’t she” catch the dread disease, since she and another doctor had a romantic relationship, violating all kinds of epidemic no-contact rules, but also to the arrival of a young man who claims to be a relative, a cancer diagnosis, and a brand-new engagement.

forever my girlForever My Girl by Courtney McLaughlin. When have you ever heard of Hollywood cleaning up a book when they make it into a movie? That’s what happened with Forever My Girl. I saw the movie and since I liked the story, figured I’d love the book even more. But there were so many differences between the book and the movie, it was hardly the same story at all. Hollywood made Liam Page’s father the town minister so that the theme of reconciliation would flow through the movie, a theme I describe in my movie review. The book’s storyline is much more romance, less trust and reconciliation. The book loses a star right off the bat because of the grammatical errors in it. There’s also more usage of the f-bomb than I expected, given the squeaky-clean nature of the movie, and a graphic sex scene that goes on for multiple pages (again, the movie only hints at this). I chose this book after seeing the movie because I wanted more about these characters and their story. I got more — but it wasn’t necessarily more about the same people, and in many instances, it was more than I wanted.

finding fionaFinding Fiona by Donna Fasano. An overextended housewife in the affluent suburbs of Wilmington, DE, has to explain to the police why she didn’t realize her husband had been missing for several days. When he doesn’t return, and there’s no explanation, Fiona has to pick up the pieces and find a way to earn a living. Her old friend Di, having just lost a job, comes to stay with Fiona and help her through the crisis. With themes of reconciliation on many levels, this was an enjoyable book.

recipe boxThe Recipe Box by Viola Shipman (Netgalley review). Samantha had grand ambitions of going to New York City and becoming a great chef, but her mentor’s terrible behavior has her quitting, then returning to her family’s northern-Michigan orchard where she grew up. It was a good story, but there was a bit too much “strong woman” emphasis, neglecting the fact that the men in the family worked as hard and sacrificed as much to make the orchard a success.

 

YA/Children’s

i am not your perfect mexican daughterI Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sánchez. This is categorized YA, but I wouldn’t give it to a younger teen. Not what I expected, this book was angry, dark, and depressing. It lacked a good sense of place — you never got a feel for the Chicago neighborhood where Julia lives, though when she visits her relatives in Mexico, that is better described. (Maybe this was deliberate?) Not what I expected, this book was angry, dark, and depressing. It lacked a good sense of place — you never got a feel for the Chicago neighborhood where Julia lives, though when she visits her relatives in Mexico, that is better described. (Maybe this was deliberate?) Julia always feels like the second-rate second daughter, and when her “perfect” older sister is killed in a traffic accident, her depression and guilt, combined with her parents’ grief, threatens to undo her. Julia’s only ambitions are to get out of her neighborhood and become a writer, and the only other thing that interests her is uncovering the secrets she’s sure her sister left behind. Finding out the truth of those secrets was the only reason I finished this book. Strong language (bilingual), some violence, and sexual situations.

Nonfiction

light entrusted to youThe Light Entrusted to You: Keeping the Flame of Faith Alive by  John R. Wood. A parent-to-parent guide to help you share Catholicism with your family by living Catholicism with your family. The author is not a theologian or professor: he’s an eye doctor and a parent who loves his children and his faith. The chapters are cleverly titled to form the acronym “SAINTS,” and the topics covered range from saints to Scripture to sports (yes, sports). A more-detailed table of contents or an index would be helpful in this book, but the information in the book is solid and Wood’s delivery is engaging. Read my full review.

lenten healingLenten Healing: 40 Days to Set You Free From Sin by Ken Kniepmann is a do-it-yourself retreat that focuses not only on sin, but on the virtues that will have room in our lives if we free ourselves from sin. Filled with relatable, concrete examples of the faces of sin in our lives, Scripture passages and questions for meditation (keep a journal handy!),  and short prayers, this book is a gateway for readers to confront — and weed out — those sinful actions and tendencies that keep us far from God. Read my full review.

humility rulesHumility Rules: Saint Benedict’s 12-Step Guide to Genuine Self-Esteem by J. Augustine Wetta, OSB. The author does not talk down to teens, but rather challenges them to engage with their faith as they grow in virtue. Self-esteem might seem like a dated buzzword, but Wetta demonstrates how it’s important, even virtuous, for teens to develop a healthy self-esteem. Read my full review.

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!

open book new logo


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
Unless otherwise noted, I purchased these books myself or read library copies. Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Opinions expressed here are mine.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: What’s New for Lent

Making Room in Lent

Two new books from Ave Maria Press invite readers to open their hearts to God and set themselves free from sin and its trappings.

Lenten Healing: 40 Days to Set You Free From Sin is a do-it-yourself retreat that focuses not only on sin, but on the virtues that will have room in our lives if we free ourselves from sin. Author Ken Kniepmann begins each day’s entry with the line, “Today, I choose to fast from the sin (or wound) of _____.” The exception is each Sunday, when the entry focuses on feasting on virtues. Filled with relatable, concrete examples of the faces of sin in our lives, Scripture passages and questions for meditation (keep a journal handy!),  and short prayers, this book is a gateway for readers to confront — and weed out — those sinful actions and tendencies that keep us far from God.

Each week, after Friday’s entry, there’s a prayer meditation on the sin and the wound that has been the focus of each week. This is my favorite part of the book; I recommend that you bring this book to Adoration, along with a journal, to work through that section of each week’s chapter. The Sunday emphasis on the virtue that is the opposite of the sin you’ve been considering all week is a refreshing and uplifting opportunity to focus on how we can change our lives for good during Lent.

lenten healing

 

Some 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 …

making room for God

Why is this a book for Lent? While it isn’t designated as one, I can’t help but think its early-February release is providentially timed. In Lent, we seek to reform our hearts. This book is not full of tips and tricks for cleaning out that kitchen-gadget drawer or keeping your linen closet tidy. Instead, it’s an invitation to look at your relationship with your stuff — not just the stuff you have now, but the stuff you may acquire later. Its focus on generosity, the common good, and prayer make it an excellent Lenten read: by Easter, you’ll be thinking about the way you live a whole lot differently.

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

#OpenBook: November 2017 Reads

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. I added a new category, Christmas stories, this month because I am all about reading Christmas novels and novellas. Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:

Fiction: Christmas Stories

best of all giftsBest of All Gifts by Sheila Cronin. Two Thanksgivings ago, I read Sheila Cronin’s The Gift Counselor, a perfect Christmastime read. In that story, we meet Jonquil, a young widowed mom who has carved out a unique job as a department-store gift counselor. She helps customers examine their motivation for the gifts they give, while advising them on good gift choices. Jonquil uses data gathered at work for her thesis so she can complete an advanced degree. Jonquil’s story continues in Best of All Gifts, in which we find that her work nemesis is assigned to be her assistant, her new thesis advisor seems to have it in for her (and she’s inexplicably attracted to him), and the father who disappeared when she was eight years old resurfaces. And there’s more: Jonquil’s son has a very scary health crisis and she just isn’t sure that Claude, the contractor she began dating in the first book, really wants to marry her. And Thanksgiving is coming. Read my full review.

christmas at gate 18Christmas at Gate 18 by Amy Matayo. A Sports Illustrated cover model tired of being objectified for her looks (but not tired enough to quit her job) meets a Hollywood executive when they’re both stranded in the Dominican Republic due to a late-season hurricane just before Christmas. I enjoyed the story. I didn’t so much enjoy the attempt at “chemistry” between the two that mostly devolved into Colt’s objectification of Rory. It wasn’t very explicit, but it definitely took away from the message the rest of the story seemed to be trying to convey.

Fiction

they see a familyThey See a Family by Amanda Hamm. Kay reaches out to her friend William for help when an accident kills Kay’s sister and brother-in-law, leaving their baby and toddler in her care. Kay and William had been friends for a long time, and both harbored unspoken crushes. As they navigate the pitfalls of caring for two young children and dealing with Kay’s grief, each tries to figure out how to reveal the feelings of growing love to the other — even as they cook up a plan to become a family out of necessity. Highly recommended. (Advance review copy received from author; book coming in late January.)

sweetbriar cottageSweetbriar Cottage by Denise Hunter. When Noah finds out his ex had never followed through on filing their signed divorce papers, he angrily demands that she set things right. Josephine, who admits the fault in both the failed marriage and messed-up divorce, tries to go one step further and deliver the paperwork to his remote ranch to save him a trip to town. Then the two are stranded due to car trouble and snowy weather, and Josie makes mistake after mistake as she tries to help the two of them out of increasingly difficult circumstances. Finally, when they find themselves in a true crisis, Josie opens up about her harrowing past. This is an intriguing story, well-paced, with lots of flashbacks and a loose end or two.

odds of you and meThe Odds of You and Me by Cecilia Galante. Bernadette “Bird” has less than two weeks to complete her probation for writing bad checks to pay for diapers and food for her young son. A single mom with a complicated history with her mom, Bird is trying hard to make a new start when she discovers her former coworker James, a badly-injured fugitive with a stolen gun, hiding in her local church. Bird must grapple with the dilemma of whether to help him as he once helped her, while balancing her job, parenting, her grief about some events in her past, and her difficulties with her mother. This book contains a few inaccurate representations of what the Church actually teaches.

surprise meSurprise Me by Sophie Kinsella. This author never disappoints — she puts terrific characters in believable situations, and she lets them (and the reader) feel just the right amount of discomfort. When a young couple’s doctor tells them on their tenth anniversary that they’ll probably live long enough to be married 68 years, they panic: how will they keep it fresh? But their manic, hilarious (and expensive) attempts to surprise each other come dangerously close to breaking them up. A fun read. (Netgalley review.)

YA/Children’s

Final Julia's Gifts Front revJulia’s Gifts by Ellen Gable. Prepare to be charmed! I loved Julia’s hopefulness, shown that December of 1917 when she spent nearly all she had on a gift for someone she had not yet met. These gifts figure significantly in the story — because she brings them to a war zone with her, in the hopes that she’ll get to give them to her one true love. Instead, she finds that she’s called to sacrifice them in ways she never imagined. This is a well-researched piece of historical fiction about a time period that’s often overshadowed by the World War II era. This was written for the YA audience, but adults will enjoy it too. Read my full review. (Advance review copy received from author.)

caleb and kitCaleb and Kit by Beth Vrabel. Caleb has cystic fibrosis and the burdensome care routine and restrictions that keep him alive are getting him down and causing problems with his peers. In the summer he meets Kit, a girl his age who’s pretty much on her own. The two of them form a secret friendship where they can both take a break from the burdens each of them bears. Beautiful novel for middle-school students, with a sensitive treatment of what it’s like for a young teen to live with a chronic illness — and for his family.

Nonfiction

tied in knotsTied in Knots: Finding Peace in Today’s World by Greg Willits. This is a book I’ll probably revisit again, with highlighter in hand. I appreciate Willits’ openness about his own struggles with anxiety and what it has cost him. However, I was distracted by all the personal stories and I know I missed the crux of the book because of that. It was too easy to get carried away by the personal accounts. This book begs for a second read, this time with less concentration on Willits’ own story and more on the advice he offers. The end of the book features a useful guide to the Rosary and the Novena to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots.

reading peopleReading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel. I love all things personality theory, so I was prepared to love this book. But it was really more of a beginner’s guide; I’d read many of the books Bogel used as resources for this book. There wasn’t much in there that was new to me, and I don’t think the book really kept the promise it made in the subtitle. I’d have called it “a beginner’s guide to seeing the world through the lens of personality.” Bogel spent a lot of time sharing what she discovered about herself with each form of personality theory, but there wasn’t much on what everyone else can learn.

PrintThe Peace of Christmas: Quiet Reflections from Pope Francis by Diane Houdek. The reflections begin with a gratitude-themed essay that is perfect for Thanksgiving and continue through Advent and the Christmas season. Each entry in this book is only a couple of pages long (so you won’t feel stressed-out trying to keep up with it) and has three parts: a quiet reflection from Pope Francis, followed by “A Christmas Reality” — a reality check from the author on how to live out Pope Francis’ teaching, and “Your Christmas Gift Today,” an action item that’s not something so taxing that it will cause you to feel you have yet another obligation on a day that’s already packed with things to do, places to go, and stuff to check off your ever-growing list. Read my full review. (Advance copy received from publisher.)

another place at the tableAnother Place at the Table by Kathy Harrison. This book about the plight of foster children in very difficult circumstances was written from the point of view of a foster mom. She’s very honest about her wish to be able to save all children who are facing extreme family challenges, even when she knows she’s spread too thin already. She’s also honest about the occasional error in judgment — which, let’s face it, we all make as parents. But it’s clear that she is operating from a true love of children and a wish to give kids who’ve had a horrific start in life a chance at a better future. Due to its sometimes graphic nature, this book is for older teens and adults.

catholic hipster handbookThe Catholic Hipster Handbook by Tommy TIghe is packed with plenty of Catholic inside baseball without making the reader feel unworthy. This book won’t teach you how to be a cool Catholic. Instead, it revels in what’s cool about being Catholic and invites the reader to revel in it too. Tommy Tighe gathered together 15 cool Catholics, many of whom you’ll find speaking and tweeting and writing and hosting Catholic radio shows, to help put this handbook together. Read my full review. (Advance reading 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!

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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On Barb’s Bookshelf: Forgiving Mother

Barb's Book shelf blog title

Born of a mother-daughter relationship that goes way beyond “it’s complicated,” Marge Steinhage Fenelon’s Forgiving Mother: A Marian Novena of Healing and Peace (new from Servant Books) speaks to the heart of those who carry the burden of wounds from the past.

forgiving mother

I need to state right up front that I have a good relationship with my own mom. But this book about healing touched me deeply — because there are relationships in my life that have been difficult and hurtful, and I’ve hung onto those hurts for too long.

Citing the Gospel story where Jesus heals the blind, crippled man at the Sheep’s Gate (John 5: 2-9), Marge shares this thought that anyone who’s holding onto old hurts can relate to:

Do you want to be made well? Believe it or not, for a very long time, my answer to that question was no. I was afraid of what it would take to be made well, so I preferred to stay just as I was, ignoring my pain and hiding my past. (Chapter 1)

Healing is hard. It takes work. Jesus isn’t going to wave a magic wand and make everything better. We have to want it, and we have to work for it.

Marge’s experience of healing hinged on developing her relationship with the Blessed Mother, noting that

God decides and provides the means by which you eventually can let go of the past, live in the present, and look to the future with hope and confidence. There are two keys to attaining this: trust in God and love of Mary. … Our Lord Jesus Christ is the ultimate healer; he will mend your wounds and restore you to health and vibrancy. Mother Mary will nurture and protect you. In her tender, loving way, she will accompany you each step of the way. She is, and wants to be in every way possible, truly your mother. … [Mary] is anxious to fill the void that has been left in you. She hears—has heard and will hear—your cries of distress, and she anxiously waits to answer them. (Chapter 9)

Marge’s book is a primer on forgiveness. It’s not easy to forgive, especially those hurts we know we’ll never be able to forget. Quoting St. John of the Cross, she notes in Chapter 3 that “the devil can use our memories to gain influence over our souls.”

Healing our hearts, healing our memories, healing our relationships (when possible) is at the heart of this book and the novena prayers accompanying it. The titles of the novena prayers speak to the essence of this book:
Day 1: Lord, give me the grace to want to heal
Day 2: Mary, let me grow closer to you
Day 3: Mary, help me look back
Day 4: Mary, let me see myself as a child of God
Day 5: Mary, let me see my mother as a child of God
Day 6: Mary, let me be transformed in the Spirit
Day 7: Mary, draw me into your heart
Day 8: Mary, let me grow
Day 9: Mary, let me be healed

Marge’s honesty and courage in sharing the harrowing details of the abuse she suffered from her mother as well as the redeeming power of the relationship she developed with Mary, Mother of God and Mother to us all, will encourage any reader who needs to find healing, forgiveness and hope in a difficult relationship. Forgiving Mother is not easy to read. The prayers are not easy to pray — but God’s mercy, freely given, becomes easier to accept as healing begins.


Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book via Netgalley, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

#OpenBook: July 2017 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

things we knewThe Things We Knew by Catherine West. When I reached the last page of this book, I found it very hard to leave this family of characters behind. Catherine West has created a wonderful group of flawed-but-working-on-it characters, most from one family, and all of whom have been wounded by a family tragedy that no one quite understands. Lynette, the youngest and most wounded, holds the key to everyone’s healing, including her own–but it’s been used to lock up the traumatic memories of what a middle-schooler once witnessed. Addiction and dementia in some characters add to the challenges this family faces. I read this book because Carolyn recommended it! It’s definitely the best novel I’ve read this month.

murphys luckMurphy’s Luck by Benjamin Laskin. A very different romance–quirky, captivating and a terrific story. Murphy Drummer has the worst luck. Everything falls down around him, though he manages to escape unscathed. After he’s kicked out of school, his grandfather keeps him at home, where he tries out every hobby under the son while managing never to leave the house. Murphy manages to make a name and a nice living for himself as a blogger. Once his grandfather dies and he does leave, a chance encounter with a woman who always seems to land on her feet raises the possibility that Murphy’s luck just might change.

cub creekCub Creek by Grace Greene. This novel paints a disturbing picture in a beautiful setting. Libbie is running from a tragic past, but her impulsive purchase of a home in the middle of nowhere turns eerie quickly when she feels like she’s being watched and has flashbacks to some of the horrors in her formative years. Her relocation isn’t enough to keep tragedy from following where she goes. There’s hints at some sort of mental illness on top of Libbie’s abusive family background.

loves highwayLove’s Highway by Jane Lebak. This novella is part of the “First Street Church Kindle Worlds” series by over a dozen different authors. I’m a fan of Jane’s work so I read hers first. Casey, a young woman on the run, shows up in Sweet Grove and lets her guard down immediately when she sees someone abandoning a litter of puppies. She can’t help but be captivated by the community there, especially Peter, who’s willing to put off his own future in order to see his brilliant sister through veterinary school. Casey is challenged to learn her own lessons in sacrifice and trust. This story stands alone, but you’ll want to read more about the town–and I do hope Jane will be writing more about these characters!

loves prophetLove’s Prophet by Melissa Storm. A sweet love story that continues the “First Street Church” small-town romance series. Widower Liam has shut himself off from the world, including his young daughter, who’s on a mission to carry out her mother’s dying wish: to complete the family once again. Molly Sue has her heart set on Jennifer, an old friend of her mom’s; will old memories get in the way of new romance?

 

YA/Kids

spokesSpokes by Deanna K. Klingel. Two homeschooled teens team up to train for a triathlon after a tragic hit-and-run claims the life of Kelsey’s mom. With the help of friars from a nearby monastery, Kelsey and Brendon set out to solve the mystery that has police stymied while each of them works through emotional journeys through grief. Recommended for readers in middle school and up.

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

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 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

 

On Barb’s Bookshelf: God Is Not Fair and Other Reasons for Gratitude

Daniel Horan, OFM’s new book, God Is Not Fair and Other Reasons for Gratitude (Franciscan Media, 2017), is a collection of essays exploring how “the very core of Christianity appears foolish in the world.” (p. 3) This makes it Franciscan to the core: St. Francis of Assisi spent his life as a “fool for Christ” in his quest to fully live the Gospel.

God is not fair

My favorite chapters were the ones that concerned St. Francis and Franciscans. The essay titled “What’s Not-So-Special About Franciscan Spirituality” was a comfort to this Franciscan; I may work with words for my livelihood, but it’s tough to put into words exactly what Franciscan spirituality is about! “The Franciscan tradition advances only the Gospel in a way that is at the same time shockingly simple and incredibly difficult.” (p. 41)

The second section of the book, “Gospel and Culture,” is an exploration of how we can go about living the Gospel. It’s not easy, and it’s going to be different for every person–but it’s a question we all must seek to answer.

I had to read almost half this book before finding the reason for the title, but when I got there, the central premise behind the book became clear after the author considered two of Jesus’ more difficult parables regarding fairness, the story of the Prodigal Son and the one about the vineyard owner who paid all workers the same wage regardless of what time they started.

It is difficult for us to accept the gratuitous love, generosity and mercy of God. We hold one another accountable to rules of fairness, sometimes even baptized in the water of religion, but it is not the radical unfairness of God; it is not the radical justice that is equivalent to God’s infinite mercy. (p. 61)

Father Horan and I do not see eye-to-eye on many matters. I knew that before picking up this book, and I wondered a bit what I could learn from someone with whom I disagree on certain subjects. A few statements made in the book reinforced my disagreement with Father Horan–but those are specifics, and I don’t think they’re deal-breakers. Ultimately, this book is written for people seeking to model their lives more closely to the Gospel standard. While the author and I approach this differently, we still aim for the same target.
Barb's Book shelf blog title
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book by the publisher, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS