On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

An Open Book: March 2022

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. I’ve decided to only share books here if they merit 4 or 5 stars

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

Fiction

Much Ado About a Latte by Kathleen Fuller. 4* for the characters, whom I enjoyed in a previous book in this series. A sweet friends to lovers romance with a lot of missed opportunities between two coworkers. Synopsis: A coffee war is brewing in Maple Falls, where Anita and Tanner are serving up plenty of sparks to keep the town buzzing. Anita Bedford needs to face reality. It’s time to decaffeinate the dream that she and Tanner will ever be more than friends. Growing up in small-town Maple Falls, she’s had a crush on Tanner for years. But he’ll only ever see her as good, old, dependable Anita. Now she’s finally ready to make her own goals a reality. In fact, that deserted building next door to Sunshine Diner looks like a promising location to open her own café … Tanner Castillo may know how to operate a diner, but he doesn’t know beans about love. After pouring his life savings into buying the Sunshine Diner, he needs to keep his mind on making a success of it and supporting his widowed mother, not on kissing Anita Bedford. First order of business: improve his customers’ coffee experience. Next, he should probably find out who bought the building next door …It’s a bitter cup to swallow when ambition turns longtime friends and coworkers Anita and Tanner into rivals. Now that they own competing businesses, how could they ever compete for each other’s hearts? Or will the two of them come to see what’s obvious to the whole, quirky town of Maple Falls: potential for a full-roast romance, with an extra splash of dream?

Great or Nothing by Caroline Tung Richmond, Joy McCullough, Tess Sharpe, Jessica Spotswood. 4* A very well-written 4-author collaboration on a WWII version of Little Women, with each author in charge of writing one character’s chapters. At this point in the story Beth has already died, and her chapters are poems addressed mostly to her sisters, though some just seem to be musings. Vague reviewer thoughts, no-spoiler edition: Jo’s character won’t be a surprise to some readers, but I felt that it wasn’t true to the original or necessary to the story. And I should probably check authors’ backlists before I request Netgalleys. Synopsis: A reimagining of Little Women set in 1942, when the United States is suddenly embroiled in the second World War, this story, told from each March sister’s point of view, is one of grief, love, and self-discovery. In the fall of 1942, the United States is still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor. While the US starts sending troops to the front, the March family of Concord, Massachusetts grieves their own enormous loss: the death of their daughter, Beth. Under the strain of their grief, Beth’s remaining sisters fracture, each going their own way with Jo nursing her wounds and building planes in Connecticut, Meg holding down the home front with Marmee, and Amy living a secret life as a Red Cross volunteer in London–the same city where one Mr. Theodore Laurence is stationed as an army pilot. Each March sister’s point of view is written by a separate author, three in prose and Beth’s in verse, still holding the family together from beyond the grave. Woven together, these threads tell a story of finding one’s way in a world undergoing catastrophic change. (Netgalley)

The Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schultz. 4* I ran into some timeline confusion with this one (it’s easy to forget what year you’re in) and 3 points of view seemed to be a lot. Synopsis: 1957, Clayton Valley, Ohio. Ellie has the best grades in her class. Her dream is to go to nursing school and marry Brick McGinty. A basketball star, Brick has the chance to escape his abusive father and become the first person in his blue-collar family to attend college. But when Ellie learns that she is pregnant, everything changes. Just as Brick and Ellie revise their plans and build a family, a knock on the front door threatens to destroy their lives. The evolution of women’s lives spanning the second half of the twentieth century is at the center of this beautiful novel that richly portrays how much people know—and pretend not to know—about the secrets at the heart of a town, and a family.

The Dating Charade by Melissa Ferguson. 4*, a predictable but fun story. Synopsis: Cassie Everson is an expert at escaping bad first dates. And, after years of meeting, greeting, and running from the men who try to woo her, Cassie is almost ready to retire her hopes for a husband—and children—altogether. But fate has other plans, and Cassie’s online dating profile catches the eye of firefighter Jett Bentley. In Jett’s memory, Cassie Everson is the unreachable girl-of-legend from their high school days. Nervously, he messages her, setting off a chain of events that forces a reluctant Cassie back into the dating game. No one is more surprised than Cassie when her first date with Jett is a knockout—but when Cassie finds herself caring for three sisters in an emergency foster placement, she decides to hide them from Jett to avoid scaring him off. When Jett’s sister’s addiction issues land her three children at his home, he decides the last thing Cassie needs to know about is his family drama. Neither dares to tell the other about their unexpected and possibly permanent family members for fear of scaring away their potential soulmate, especially since they both listed “no kids” on their profiles! With six children between them and secrets mounting, can Cassie and Jett find a way forward?

The Last Chance Library by Freya Sampson. 4* Set in a library, this sweet friendship story is set in a small British village with some delightfully quirky characters. June’s grief has encompassed her life; she works at the library and reads, nothing else—until the library is threatened with closing and she bands together with an unlikely group of library patrons to keep it open. Synopsis: June Jones emerges from her shell to fight for her beloved local library, and through the efforts and support of an eclectic group of library patrons, she discovers life-changing friendships along the way. Lonely librarian June Jones has never left the sleepy English village where she grew up. Shy and reclusive, the thirty-year-old would rather spend her time buried in books than venture out into the world. But when her library is threatened with closure, June is forced to emerge from behind the shelves to save the heart of her community and the place that holds the dearest memories of her mother. Joining a band of eccentric yet dedicated locals in a campaign to keep the library, June opens herself up to other people for the first time since her mother died. It just so happens that her old school friend Alex Chen is back in town and willing to lend a helping hand. The kindhearted lawyer’s feelings for her are obvious to everyone but June, who won’t believe that anyone could ever care for her in that way. To save the place and the books that mean so much to her, June must finally make some changes to her life. For once, she’s determined not to go down without a fight. And maybe, in fighting for her cherished library, June can save herself, too.

 

YA/Children’s

One Blessing at a Time by Leslea Wahl. 5*, YA. This is a fun prequel to Leslea’s novels, with 4 characters we meet in her novels and series later. A single object makes its way from one character to another; two are related, and the others are connected by chance. Because I’ve read and enjoyed the other books, this was like greeting old friends. But this is a standalone prequel and you don’t need to have read any of the author’s other novels to enjoy it (though you’ll probably want to, once you read this). Synopsis: This intriguing short story about a mysterious sacred object offers a glimpse into the backgrounds of snowboarder Jake, aspiring journalist Sophie, baseball player Ryan, and theater enthusiast Josie, offering new details from their pasts. Ever wonder about the event that catapulted Jake to the national spotlight? Did Sophie always have a knack for uncovering the truth? What circumstances provided Ryan with the opportunity to play ball for an East Coast scout team? How successful was Josie as she tried to go unnoticed during her first years of high school? This illuminating short story prequel explores the idea that you never know whose life you may touch with a simple blessing.

Beckoning by Claudia Cangilla McAdam. 4*, YA. Split-time Biblical fiction, but 90% of the time was spent in the Biblical setting, making me wonder why the author even bothered with the other story line. It got in the way of the flow of the Biblical story. Synopsis: Tabby Long is a non-Christian girl in a Catholic school whose world gets turned upside down when her dad, who has never been a man of faith, experiences a miraculous healing on Good Friday. Her father’s dramatic religious conversion alienates her mother, who deserts the family. In her struggle to understand what has happened to her family, Tabby follows the suggestion of her school’s religion teacher, and she begins spending time reading Scripture while in Eucharistic Adoration. Following the practice taught by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, she inserts herself into the biblical stories she reads. Through this process, she “time travels” to first-century Jerusalem, where she is Tabitha Longinus, the daughter of the centurion Gaius Cassius Longinus, who pierces the side of the crucified Jesus, incurs a spontaneous healing, and undergoes immediate conversion. Tabitha is a Gentile girl with Jewish friends and a mother who can’t accept her husband’s newfound (and dangerous) faith.

Long Story Short by Serena Kaylor. 4*, YA. When a solitary, routine-bound homeschooled teenager gets into her dream school (Oxford), her parents decide to send her to theatre camp for the summer so she can prove her ability to socialize before they’ll let her travel abroad for college. (And her parents are therapists! OK, sex therapists, but still. Talk about out of the frying pan, into the fire.) What could possibly go wrong? An entertaining novel packed with the stereotypical theatre-kid characters and some to spare: the characters are a lot of fun to read about. I’m not sure of the significance, if any, of the title. Synopsis: Growing up homeschooled in Berkeley, California, Beatrice Quinn is a statistical genius who has dreamed her whole life of discovering new mathematical challenges at a school like Oxford University. She always thought the hardest part would be getting in, not convincing her parents to let her go. But while math has always made sense to Beatrice, making friends is a problem she hasn’t been able to solve, so her parents are worried about sending her halfway across the world. The compromise: the Connecticut Shakespearean Summer Academy and a detailed list of teenage milestones to check off. She has six weeks to show her parents she can pull off the role of “normal” teenager and won’t spend the rest of her life hiding in a library. (Netgalley, releases July 26)

Butter by Erin Jade Longe. 4*, YA. Better than the movie. The movie is what got me interested in reading the book at all (because I wanted to see how they compared). I thought the book’s ending was more realistic than the movie’s, though still a reach. Butter is isolated both from his parents and his peers because of his weight. The only sympathetic character is his music teacher, who encourages his ability by letting him jam with his jazz band. But Butter decides he’ll get back at the bullies by promising to webcast as he eats himself to death. Synopsis: A lonely 423-pound boy everyone calls “Butter” is about to make history. He’s going to eat himself to death live on the Internet – and everyone will watch. When he makes this announcement online, he expects pity, insults, or possibly sheer indifference. Instead, his classmates become morbid cheerleaders for his deadly plan. But as their dark encouragement grows, a few voices begin to offer genuine support and Butter starts to have doubts. His suicidal threat brought his newfound popularity–and a taste of what life could hold for him–but can he live with the fallout if he decides not to go through with his plan? Emotionally raw and darkly humourous, this is an all-consuming look at one teen’s battle with himself.

Nonfiction

In Awakening at Lourdes: How an Unanswered Prayer Healed Our Family and Restored Our Faith, Christy Wilkens describes the details of her last-ditch spiritual effort to heal what modern medicine could not. She and her husband were exhausted, and the constant caregiving, monitoring, and medical visits for Oscar did not leave much left over for their five older children—or their marriage. Synopsis: The grotto at Lourdes is known as a place of healing. But sometimes the miracle that occurs is not physical, but something much deeper. Wilkens made the long trek to Lourdes with her husband, Todd, and their toddler—who is plagued by mysterious seizures—through a program with the Order of Malta. In Awakening at Lourdes, Wilkens shares that while Oscar’s condition did improve after their visit, the real healing took place between she and her husband. Through their time at Lourdes, they discovered a deeper love for each other, a renewed sense of appreciation for their faith community, and an abiding confidence in God’s mercy. Persuaded by her husband to take the trip, Wilkens summoned her faith– faith in God, faith in her husband, and faith in the doctors and other helpers who surrounded them every step of the way—to embark on the journey of a lifetime. Recording their experiences with deeply personal yet highly relatable language, Wilkens offers a firsthand account of the traditions and culture of the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes and the shrine’s special servers, the Order of Malta. She also captures her own doubts, questions, and fears as she attempted to process the family’s physical and emotional journey.

 

The Fine Print

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

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

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

Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

open book and coffee mug near a lake

New Spiritual Reads for Lent 2022

While Lent is still a whole month away (Ash Wednesday is March 2, 2022), ongoing supply-chain and shipping issues mean planning ahead is a good idea. This year I’ve had the chance to preview four new resources: one family prayer and activity booklet, one guided prayer journal, and two daily devotionals.

Claire McGarry’s booklet, Abundant Mercy: Family Devotions and Activities for Lent, is perfect for families with school-age kids. Each day’s prayer page is right-sized for busy families, with a quote from Scripture, a micro-story or reflection, a meditation on our faith, and a Mercy section at the bottom of each page: a one-line prayer (“Receive Mercy”) and a call to action (“Extend Mercy”).

My favorite feature of this booklet is that Mercy section. The prayers are for intentions kids can understand and relate to, and the suggested actions are do-able for kids who are old enough to be in school.

For example, Wednesday of the First Week of Lent features Matthew 5:44, a paragraph about the Christmas 1914 ceasefire in Germany, a reflection about making the first move toward reconciliation, a prayer for help in forgiving our enemies, and this call to action: “Extend Mercy. Write a prayer for someone you’re having trouble with. Work for a ceasefire by praying that both of your hearts become filled with peace.”

Some of these “Extend Mercy” actions are individual; others are things families can do or discuss together. At only a page a day, the reflections in this booklet could be used at the beginning of the day or around the dinner table. Abundant Mercy is available on Kindle or in print from Creative Communications for the Parish.

RESTORE: A Guided Lent Journal for Prayer and Meditation, the new seasonal journal by Sr. Miriam James Heidland, SOLT and illustrated by Valerie Delgado, is a beautiful journal that invites you to write your thoughts and prayers throughout Lent. This book is appropriate for moms, dads, and other adults, including college students.

Four pages for each day of Lent, as well as Easter Sunday, include a line of Scripture, a one-page meditation, and two full pages with journal lines, topped by a question to ponder and ending with a one-line prayer.

The meditations and prayers by Sr. Miriam James are complemented by Valerie Delgado’s inviting art, shown at the beginning of each week’s section. The book’s design is uncluttered, eliminating unnecessary distraction during your prayer time, and accented in subdued Lenten purple.

RESTORE will be released February 11 on Kindle or in print from Amazon and from Ave Maria Press. (I recommend purchasing the print book—the ebook price is almost equal to the print version, and since this is a journal, the print book makes more sense.)

Thy Kingdom Come: A Lenten Journey by Fr. Dennis Gallagher, AA, Provincial of the Augustinians of the Assumption, offers daily reflections based on the daily Mass readings. Fr. Gallagher writes in a simple, accessible style that brings home the truths of each day’s Gospel without being complicated.

The daily entries in Thy Kingdom Come include a line from the daily Gospel, a brief reflection (most are two short paragraphs in length), and a concluding prayer related to the topic of that day’s reflection. All the reflections in this book are centered on the theme of choosing to follow God’s will for our lives.

If you’re unable to attend daily Mass during Lent, the reflections in this booklet will serve as mini-homilies and are an excellent accompaniment to each day’s readings.

This booklet is geared toward an adult audience and would be suitable for a married couple or prayer group to read and discuss together.

Thy Kingdom Come is available on Kindle or in print from Amazon or from Creative Communications for the Parish.

Fans of the spiritual writing of Dutch priest Henri J.M. Nouwen (1932-1996) will enjoy Drawn to the Cross: Inspiration from Henri J.M. Nouwen. This booklet of Lenten devotions includes a Scripture quote for each day, a line or two from one of Nouwen’s works, then a reflection on that theme. The reflections and the prayers that conclude each day’s entries are written by Gil Duchow.

This booklet, designed for adult readers, explores the meaning of the cross in terms of humility, service, and sacrifice.

On the back of the booklet, readers will find a list of Nouwen’s published works quoted in the daily entries. While that’s required for copyright purposes, it’s also an excellent resource for readers who want to explore this author’s work in more depth.

Drawn to the Cross is available in print from Creative Communications for the Parish.

 

 


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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

#OpenBook: June 2019 Reads

open book logo

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

Fiction

Pearl of Great PricePearl of Great Price by Myra Johnson

A job in the family business in a small town suits Julie Pearl Stiles just fine, but when she realizes she may be at the center of a long-ago tragedy, she begins to wonder about her real identity. This story of suffering, friendship, mental illness, romance, and figuring out one’s place in the world will hook you from the start.

Ever Faithful: A Vintage National Parks Novel (Shadows of the Wilderness)Ever Faithful: A Vintage National Parks Novel by Karen Barnett.

All the local color you could want in a novel. This Depression-era story, set in Yellowstone National Park, sets a vivid scene as backdrop for a blossoming romance between a Brooklyn-born CCC worker and a young local woman working hard to achieve her goal of becoming a teacher. Both are wounded in their own ways. A mystery creates enough intrigue (with plausible red herrings) to keep you reading. I’ll look for more from this author!

The Sisters of Summit AvenueThe Sisters of Summit Avenue by Lynn Cullen

“Two sisters bound together by love, duty, and pain” – from the blurb. SO MUCH PAIN. The pain was overwhelmingly palpable. Ruth and her 4 daughters barely keep the family farm running during the Depression; her husband was felled several years ago by encephalitis lethargica. Her sister June is one of the “Bettys” — women developing recipes and answering letters to Betty Crocker. And their mother Dorothy is practically a recluse, hiding from the secrets of her past. Plenty of plot twists and infidelities, and the split-time story line can get a bit confusing. And then there’s that cheap trope where one of the characters wants to write a book, and you discover that you’re reading the book they’re writing. (Netgalley review; available August 2019.)

The Road She Left BehindThe Road She Left Behind by Christine Nolfi

Old family dramas and a lifetime of hurts caused Darcy, burdened by guilt over an accident that killed her father and sister, to flee her family’s estate, abandoning her sister’s baby, Emerson, to the mother Darcy couldn’t wait to escape. 8 years later, Emerson disappears, and Darcy is called back to her family home to help find the young boy and make amends to the boyfriend she left behind years ago. A good story with great secondary characters.

Like Never Before (Walker Family, #2)Like Never Before by Melissa Tagg

When political speechwriter Logan discovers he’s inherited his hometown newspaper, the last thing he wants to do is follow up on that or deal with the ambitious young editor who wants to take over the paper before it’s sold to a conglomerate. But Amelia is chasing a story that has Logan intrigued, and he finds himself trying to untangle Maple Valley’s longtime unsolved mystery, and falling for Amelia in the process. A light, clean summer read; part of an enjoyable series.

All this Time (Walker Family, #4)All this Time by Melissa Tagg

Bear, haunted by a guilty promise he made after his girlfriend’s death, wants to prove himself to her parents in the mission they founded in Brazil. But he’s charged with the care of his nephew and niece, whose parents’ and grandparents’ drug-trade activities put them in danger. He winds up in Maple Valley, where an old crush invites him to stay with her family until his situation stabilizes.

A Place to Belong (Maple Valley)A Place to Belong by Melissa Tagg

This novella provides some back story about Megan and her shop, Coffee Coffee, in the small town of Maple Valley. When Megan meets Eric, owner of a struggling local halfway house, she’s almost ready to put aside a dangerous infatuation from her past – until her baby’s father returns to town. A bit predictable, but fills in the blanks of some of the other Maple Valley novels.

From the Start (Walker Family, #1)From the Start by Melissa Tagg

First in the Walker Family series, this book sets the scene for the quintessential (and a little bit quirky) small town of Maple Valley. Screenwriter/novelist Kate needs a fresh start after disappointments in love and her career, and when she returns to her hometown, she runs into Colton Greene, a sidelined NFL quarterback who needs someone to write his biography as much as he needs a new direction in life after his injuries.

Sister Mary Baruch: The Early YearsSister Mary Baruch: The Early Years by Jacob Restrick

Rebecca Feinstein is drawn to Catholicism through a friend, and while she’s still a college student, she decides to convert from Judaism and, later, to enter a cloistered Dominican monastery. Various family members react in different ways, but a rift between Rebecca and much of her family continues throughout the novel. It’s a good story, but it reads as if an elderly man were dictating the book to a transcriber. I was not intrigued enough to continue reading the series.

Jane by the BookJane by the Book by Pepper D. Basham

This romance novella features two overly-formal characters thrown together by a 150-year-old mystery. Buttoned-up inkeeper Jane and impulsive novelist Titus are an unlikely pair as they try to track down the story of one of Jane’s ancestors while both visit Bath, England. Meanwhile, Titus writes Jane into his novel — and she suspects he’s using her. Maybe you need to be an Austen fan to appreciate this better, but I was underwhelmed.

The Road to Paradise (Vintage National Parks, #1)The Road to Paradise by Karen Barnett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In an attempt to escape the influence of her controlling boyfriend, Margie takes refuge in Mt. Rainier National Park. Her senator father pulls some strings to secure a place for her, but she chooses a remote, tumbledown cabin in order to be closer to nature. Fighting her own fears of her boyfriend when he follows her to the mountain, Margie also battles a rush to development that would destroy the park’s natural beauty — as well as her attraction for a handsome ranger who doesn’t share her faith.

YA/Children’s

Silver Meadows SummerSilver Meadows Summer by Emma Otheguy

11-year-old Carolina grieves her native Puerto Rico, which her family left so they could join relatives in upstate NY. She feels that her family is leaving their heritage behind, trying to fit in to their new place, but all she wants to do is go home and have everything the way it was. She befriends a girl at day camp, and together they find a tumbledown cabin in the woods, which they fix up as a combination hideout/art studio. But their camp, and their studio, are threatened by real-estate developers, and they don’t think middle-schoolers can do anything to stop it. Enjoyable novel for ages 10 and up.

Lucky Broken GirlLucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar

10-year-old Ruthie, a recent immigrant to New York City from Castro’s Cuba, is just finding her way to fit in when she’s in a terrible car accident that leaves her housebound and in a body cast for months. She endures unimaginable loneliness on top of the severe pain from the accident and surgery. This middle-grade semi-autobiographical novel explores the experience of Jewish-Cuban immigrants in the late 1960s.

Nonfiction

The Catholic Working Mom's Guide to LifeThe Catholic Working Mom’s Guide to Life by JoAnna Wahlund

A practical guide bolstered by real-life honesty. The author speaks from her own experience as a Catholic working mom. There are chapters concentrating on specific concerns of moms with infants and very young children, but much of the advice in this book applied to me as well (a full-time, work-from-home mom of a teenager with a young adult also living at home). It’s a good antidote to the Mommy Wars and encouragement to working moms, whether full-time, part-time, split-shift, or what flavor of work schedule describes yours. Many, MANY plugs for the author’s Facebook group, which came off as a bit self-serving. (ARC received from publisher.)

Live Big, Love Bigger: Getting Real with BBQ, Sweet Tea, and a Whole Lotta JesusLive Big, Love Bigger: Getting Real with BBQ, Sweet Tea, and a Whole Lotta Jesus by Kathryn Whitaker

Not what I expected – and that was a good thing! From the blurb, I thought it would be more of a travelogue of the Whitaker family’s barbecue pilgrimage, and that’s not at all the case. Since I’ve never been to Texas nor had barbecue, I didn’t expect to relate to this book. Instead, I found that it’s full of honest talk from a mom who had to learn the hard way a lesson we all need to learn: perfectionism doesn’t get you anywhere. If you have a quiet place to read and a bottomless glass of sweet tea, you’ll easily read your way through this book in an afternoon, but its lessons will stick with you much longer. (ARC received from publisher; available late August 2019.)

EducatedEducated by Tara Westover

A disturbing memoir of a family that was beyond dysfunctional. The author grew up physically and emotionally isolated from others and was never allowed to attend school. Her mentally ill father and codependent mother created an unstable environment for the family that put themselves and their children in danger on repeated occasions. The author seems to be trying to move toward a place of healing, but frequently backtracks and undercuts some of her statements by introducing competing accounts from others. This book is enormously popular but I don’t see the attraction, unless you’re after a voyeuristic look into a family life affected by mental illness.

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

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

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

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


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: May 2019 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

printed letter bookshopThe Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay. Madeline inherits a struggling bookshop from her aunt Maddie and finds that she has plenty of healing to do as she works to turn the store around. Meanwhile, healing is in order for the store’s two employees, one of whom had gone through a bitter divorce; the other is disconnected from her family. I originally thought this would be a cheap take-off on You’ve Got Mail – but I was very pleasantly surprised. Don’t miss this book!

memory house-hauckThe Memory House by Rachel Hauck. Split-time novels can be challenging reads but Rachel Hauck makes it easy. Beck’s policeman father died on 9/11 and she lost all her childhood memories with him. Pregnant after an ill-considered one-night stand and suspended from her job on the NYPD, Beck learns she’s inherited a home in Florida from a family friend she doesn’t remember either. She gradually learns the story of the widowed Everleigh Applegate as she reconnects with a childhood friend who’s facing his own challenges. Highly recommended.

georgiaGeorgia on Her Mind by Rachel Hauck. Macy finds herself pushed out of her job and dumped by her boyfriend in the same horrible day. She tries to make the best of things with the help of her friends, the “Single Saved Sisters,” and worries about her upcoming high-school reunion. She doesn’t want to return as a failure to her hometown. After several false starts, she finds a way to make it, after all. Believable characters and situation. I really enjoyed this story.

Sweet on YouSweet on You by Becky Wade. Warning: This novel will make you want to eat chocolate. And I’m not talking M&Ms or Hershey Kisses. You may as well visit your favorite candy shop and pick up some of the good stuff right now, before you begin reading. That’s because Britt, the heroine of the novel, owns a gourmet chocolate shop; her family and friends, including Zander, her longtime friend who’s had a longtime crush on her, get to taste-test her creations. Read my full review. (ARC received from publisher)

the waves

The Waves by Amy Matayo. Dillon and Liam, both forced to go on a cruise with Dillon’s family, wind up stranded on a tiny deserted island after Dillon tries to escape her family and goes on an impromptu excursion. The two must find ways to survive as they wait and hope for rescue. Good suspense; a clean and sweet romance.

gold diggerGold Digger: The Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor by Rebecca Rosenberg. Fascinating historical novel about Colorado’s own Gold Rush and the people whose lives were made and ruined in the gold- and silver-mining industry. I was amazed to learn that Baby Doe and many other figures in the novel were real people. The historical scope of the book was impressive, but the characters weren’t very well-developed. Fair warning: the book ends on a cliffhanger — you’ll have to Google what happens to Baby Doe and her family. (Netgalley review)

rumors and promisesRumors & Promises by Kathleen Rouser. Sophie Biddle arrives in a small town with a young child and almost nothing else. Wary of strangers, she settles in to work at a boarding house, hoping no one will figure out that the little girl is not her sister but her daughter — who was conceived in rape — and that her attacker won’t find her. The young minister, who harbors tragic secrets of his own, falls in love with her. I’ll look for more by this author!

YA/Children’s

confessionsConfessions of a Closet Catholic by Sarah Darer Littman. Probably the best book about Catholics written by a non-Catholic I’ve read. Justine’s family is Jewish, but nominally so, and she wants the kind of faith she sees in her friend Mary Catherine’s family. She decides, as only a middle-schooler can, to give up being Jewish for Lent — and immediately regrets it when her beloved grandmother suffers a stroke. Could God be punishing her? Her visit to the confessional is at once hilarious and sweet. A wonderful story of a young girl’s spiritual exploration.

Nonfiction

letter to suffering churchLetter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis by Bishop Robert Barron. Writing in his own name as a Catholic, a priest, and a bishop — and not on behalf of his diocese, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), or the Church as a whole, Bishop Barron reaches out to readers who are wounded and disillusioned. Kindle version is now available for preorder. Read my full review, which contains details on how to order the book in bulk for your parish or program, at CatholicMom.com.

be braveBe Brave in the Scared: How I Learned to Trust God During the Most Difficult Days of My Life by Mary Lenaberg. I binge-read this book in an afternoon. It’s THAT good. Mary Lenaberg is a terrific, honest writer. She does not shy away about discussing the hard stuff, and I give her a lot of credit for sharing her own struggles in order to encourage others. If you have something in your life that you need to grieve and heal from, but you haven’t been able to give yourself permission to do that, this book is for you. (ARC received from publisher)

our lady of charityOur Lady of Charity: How a Cuban Devotion to Mary Helped Me Grow in Faith and Love by Maria Morera Johnson. A beautiful testament to the ways the patroness of Johnson’s native Cuba helped her grow in faith even after she moved with her family to the US. This quick read introduces la virgencita — Our Lady of Charity, the patroness of Cuba. Johnson traces the history of devotion among Cubans to this depiction of Our Lady, a devotion that has continued within the Cuban-American community to this day. Read my full review. (ARC received from publisher)

catholic dad 2Catholic Dad 2: More (Mostly) Funny Stories of Faith, Family, and Fatherhood by Jake Frost. Most of the stories in this book are only two to four pages long — a great length for busy parents to enjoy. I enjoy Jake’s perspective on raising children as a stay-at-home dad, his appreciation for his own mother’s influence in his life, his gentle sense of humor, and his unabashed faith that shines through on every page. (Review copy received from the author)

Love laughter living saintsLove, Laughter and Living Saints by Rev. Charles Cummings. Clearly a storyteller at heart, Fr. Cummings notes that some of the stories in this book have made their way into his homilies over his 50 years as a priest. From vignettes of his childhood to seminary stories and tales of the joys and challenges of life as a parish priest, this short book comprises 70 stories in addition to Father Cummings’ own vocation story, which serves as the introduction to the book. These stories clearly depict the author’s care for his family and his parishioners, and his servant’s heart. (Review copy received from the author)

library bookThe Library Book by Susan Orlean. Ostensibly the true-crime story of a 1986 arson fire in the main branch of the Los Angeles library, this book was less about the crime and more about the history of the LA Library system, its iconic building, and the people who have worked there. If you’re a big reader and user of libraries, and if you’ve ever worked in a library, you’ll be fascinated by the inside baseball you’ll find here. If you want to know who set the fire, don’t even bother. Also note: this author is openly anti-religion and particularly anti-Catholic, so keep this in mind while reading.


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

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

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

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


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Two Types of Fatherly Wisdom

Just in time for Father’s Day gift planning (or your own summer-reading enjoyment), here are two books packed with fatherly wisdom: true stores, one written by a father of four, and one by a parish priest.

CatholicMom contributor Jake Frost‘s second collection of family stories will charm you as much as his first one did — but if you didn’t read Catholic Dad yet, don’t let that stop you. You can jump right in and read Catholic Dad 2: More (Mostly) Funny Stories of Faith, Family, and Fatherhood. (Or go ahead and read them both!)

catholic dad 2

Most of the stories in this book are only two to four pages long — a great length for busy parents to enjoy. I enjoy Jake’s perspective on raising children as a stay-at-home dad, his appreciation for his own mother’s influence in his life, his gentle sense of humor, and his unabashed faith that shines through on every page.

Rev. Charles J. Cummings, a priest of the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, is clearly a storyteller at heart, and that definitely shows in Love, Laughter & Living Saints. He notes that some of the stories in this book have made their way into his homilies over his 50 years as a priest.

Love laughter living saints

From vignettes of his childhood to seminary stories and tales of the joys and challenges of life as a parish priest, this short book comprises 70 stories in addition to Father Cummings’ own vocation story, which serves as the introduction to the book. These stories clearly depict the author’s care for his family and his parishioners, and his servant’s heart.

Father Cummings’ book caught my attention in a particular way because it takes place in the Diocese of Scranton; I attended college at Marywood (now Marywood University) in Scranton, and I developed a deep affection for the city. I’m quite sure that if I hadn’t gone on to graduate school, I’d have looked for a job in the Scranton area and remained there after graduation. So I must admit that I kept my iPad handy while reading this book, so I could use Google Maps to find the places named and see how they figured in my own memories of living in the area.

I hope you enjoy these very different, and very sweet, collections of stories about fatherhood and spiritual fatherhood!


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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

#OpenBook: March 2019 Reads

open book logo

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

Fiction

libbys cuppa joeLibby’s Cuppa Joe by Rebecca Waters. Coffee shops and books and lakeside resort towns: what’s not to love about the setting for Rebecca Waters’ newest Christian novel? The author painted such a clear picture of Fish Creek that I felt I could have drawn a map of the town — and it’s a town where I’d be proud to live. I dove into this book and didn’t want to come back out; my only complaint is that 188 pages wasn’t enough! I’d have loved a little more story, and if the author sets any more books in this lovely community, I’ll be a happy reader.

finding dorothyFinding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts. Fictionalized story of Maud Gage Baum, wife of the author of the “Wizard of Oz” books. This novel, based on true events, feels like it belongs on the biography shelf. The author cleverly and seamlessly emphasizes elements in Maud’s life that pop up in the Oz novels. The story of her presence on the movie set brought to mind P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks but everything else rings true in this fascinating book. A must if you liked the Oz books or the movie.

hurt roadHurt Road by Bruce A. Stewart. Teenage Hank winds up in rural Louisiana after his parents are killed in an accident, and it’s the last place he wants to be – until he meets a girl and then makes a friend. His ticket out of the South is a relative in Colorado and then military service; returning after the Vietnam War, he discovers he still has feelings for that girl. But there’s a crazy ex-boyfriend who doesn’t want anyone getting between him and his dream to reunite with Becky. I enjoyed this story very much; I only wish there had been a little more to it. The narrative seemed a bit thin more often than not, especially young Hank’s quick turnaround in attitude toward helping his grandparents.

beantown girlsThe Beantown Girls by Jane Healey. Terrific WWII novel about Red Cross volunteers who travel to Europe to help the war effort. Main character Fiona’s motivation is finding her fiance, who’s been MIA for a couple of years. Despite some Lucy-and-Ethel-quality disasters in front of their superiors, the 3 are sent to France, where the realities of war are brought home to them in tragic ways. I will add that there seemed to be a disconnect in attitude: a guy who has a girlfriend back home but pursues Fiona’s friend is termed a “wolf” but Fiona finds herself in a romance. Double standard much?

song of bernadetteThe Song of Bernadette by Franz Werfel. This novelization of the apparitions at Lourdes was a tough read: paragraphs went on for a page at a time and the style is very, very flowery. I appreciated that the novel included the perspectives of many involved, without trying to get into Bernadette’s head. The book provides a good perspective of what life was like in rural France at that time in history.

 

YA/Children’s

margarets first holy weekMargaret’s First Holy Week by Jon M. Sweeney. The third book in Jon M. Sweeney’s “The Pope’s Cat” series of chapter books about a little cat who comes to live in the Vatican takes up the serious topic of the holiest time in the Church year in a sweet, reverent way children can understand. An ideal introduction to Holy Week for children ages 4 through 8, either as a read-aloud or for independent readers in second or third grade. Works well as a standalone, so don’t skip it if you haven’t read the others in the series.

Nonfiction

my queen my motherMy Queen, My Mother: A Living Novena by Marge Fenelon. This book is more than simply a novena of prayers: it’s a pilgrimage memoir, travel guidebook, and prayer book all in one. Fenelon leads the reader on a journey around the USA, visiting 9 holy shrines to the Blessed Mother and sharing what makes each a unique and worthwhile place to visit and pray. Along the way, readers are guided through a novena of consecration to the Blessed Mother. The author ends by emphasizing the importance of regularly visiting holy shrines, as these are in danger of disappearing due to lack of visitors and funding. The book can be read over 9 days, weeks, or months – but I had a tough time stopping at the end of any single day’s entry. Highly recommended. (Netgalley review)

know thyself-aKnow Thyself: The Imperfectionist’s Guide to Sorting Your Stuff by Lisa Lawmaster Hess. Finally, an organizing book for the rest of us: the ones who look organized on the outside … until you open doors or drawers, and the ones whose stuff is all over the place. Lisa Lawmaster Hess has created a do-able guide to embracing your unique combination of personal and organizing styles and working with them instead of against them. Parents: don’t miss the chapter on helping kids get organized for school. (ARC received from publisher; coming in late June from Our Sunday Visitor – but available for preorder now!)

other wes mooreThe Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore. A dual biography/autobiography with an interesting premise: two boys with the same name grow up in the same city, only blocks away from each other, with many other similarities in early-life circumstances. One grows up to become a Rhodes scholar and eventually an elite Army officer; the other is sentenced to life in prison for his part in a drug-related murder. Wes Moore discusses what went right for him and what went wrong for his same-named counterpart.

random acts of kindnessRandom Acts of Kindness: Inspiring True Stories by Dete Meserve. This companion to Meserve’s novel Good Sam is comprised of example after example of true stories of people caught in the act of kindness. When you need a break from the news of the day, enjoy a story or two from this book and your spirits will be lifted as you’re reminded that there are plenty of good people left in the world – we just don’t get to hear about them enough. (Netgalley review)

mostly sunnyMostly Sunny: How I Learned to Keep Smiling Through the Rainiest Days by Janice Dean. Memoir of a radio DJ-turned-TV meteorologist who faced sexual harassment throughout her career, and who is challenged by living with multiple sclerosis. Dean is very upfront about her various high-profile bosses who abused their power by harassing female employees. Of interest only if you enjoy celebrity bios.

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

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

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

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


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: January 2019 Reads

open book logo

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

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

Fiction

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

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

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

YA/Children’s

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

Nonfiction

prairie fires

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


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

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

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

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


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: November 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:

Christmas

It’s that time of the year, so I figured I might as well give these a category all their own! Some people watch Hallmark movies; I read Christmas novels. And novellas. And short stories.

gift of a lifetimeThe Gift of a Lifetime by Melissa Hill. A sweet novel for movie lovers. I’d made a list of rom-coms to watch by the time I finished reading it! Not very Christmas-y but labeled a Christmas novel, this is the story of Beth, an Irish emigrant working in the shoe department of a NYC store. Her suddenly-distant boyfriend is giving off a weird vibe, she meets a sweet guy at work, and she finds herself in a scavenger hunt around the city, following movie-themed clues that she thinks will lead her to true love.

christmas in evergreenChristmas in Evergreen by Nancy Naigle. This movie-to-book novel is a fun story of a young veterinarian in a town that’s all about Christmas. Allie plans to say goodbye to small-town life and head to DC where her ambitious boyfriend awaits. Time and again, things prevent her from leaving. Meanwhile, a widowed dad and his young daughter are headed to Florida to escape the sadness of Christmas after bereavement — and they can’t get out of Evergreen, either.

christmas at the heartbreak cafe

Christmas at the Heartbreak Cafe by Melissa Hill. Cafe owner Ella injures her ankle just before Christmas, and her plans for a townwide Christmas bash might have to be scuttled. Friends offer to pitch in, but then a letter is delivered that announces the end of her lease after 30 years. The solution is more than a little far-fetched, but it’s an enjoyable holiday read.

christmas mix upThe Christmas Mix Up (a children’s Christmas novel) by Justin Johnson. Penelope discovers she’s been put on Santa’s naughty list, and she knows it has to be a mistake. With only a week until Christmas, there’s no time to lose: she takes a train to the North Pole to meet with Santa and set things straight. This would be a fun read-aloud for parents and kids to enjoy together.

 

Fiction

magnolia laneOn Magnolia Lane (Blue Ridge #3) by Denise Hunter. Pastor Jack’s friends know he has a crush on Daisy, the florist, but that he doesn’t have the guts to ask her out — so they create an online dating profile using his nickname. Jack takes it from there, building an email relationship with Daisy even as his real-life feelings for her grow deeper, and hers for him. But a secret she’s keeping, and his secret about the dating profile, could ruin things for them for good. You can’t help rooting for these two.

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

we never asked for wingsWe Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbach. You’ll be drawn deep into the world of a fatherless family struggling to make it in San Francisco after the grandparents’ returned to Mexico. High-school-student Alex is really the star of the novel, trying to straddle the world between his hardscrabble life where he must care for his young sister and the life he wishes he could have with the father he’s never known. A powerful read.

promise between us

The Promise Between Us by Barbara Claypoole White. Artist Katie Mack doesn’t realize right away that one of her art students is the child she abandoned as an infant because of her severe postpartum depression. Fighting her own compulsions, she notices that the girl shows definite signs of OCD. But to help her, she’d have to reveal to her ex that she’s seen the daughter she promised never to contact. The most intense novel I’ve read in years. I was in a crowded room, reading this, and someone approached me and called my name — I jumped a good foot in the air. Trigger warning: postpartum depression/psychosis and difficult, graphic birth scene.

lavender ribbonOne Lavender Ribbon by Heather Burch. Adrienne escapes an emotionally abusive marriage and throws herself into renovating a beach home in Florida. When she finds a bundle of love letters from World War II, she sets about locating their author — and then discovers that she wants to see him reunited with his lost love. But it’s complicated, and his grandson finds himself alternating between being annoyed by Adrienne and falling for her.

YA/Children’s

henry the green zebra pigHenry the Green Zebra-Pig by Christina Leigh Daly. “Not all works of art come in a frame.” Gently-colored drawings and rhyming text underscore the book’s message that everyone is precious, no matter what they look like. This book is a perfect bedtime story or classroom read-aloud.

dear evan hansenDear Evan Hansen: The Novel by Val Emmich. I requested this Netgalley because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about — my teenager and his friends are huge fans of the musical. I didn’t like the story: it’s based on deception. Evan Hansen, completing an assignment from his psychotherapist, has a note to himself stolen by Connor, who’s made a name for himself by making everyone around him miserable. After Connor’s suicide, the note is found and Evan perpetuates the myth that he and Connor were close friends, even dating Connor’s sister. I didn’t find any character to be sympathetic or even likable. (Netgalley review)

Nonfiction

catholic all yearThe Catholic All Year Compendium by Kendra Tierney. All the liturgical-living information you need is right here in one book. You won’t have to dig through the free calendar you pick up at church, five websites, and four books about the lives of the saints to find some ways to observe the Church’s feasts, fasts, and everything in between — and make them work for your family. Read my full review. (Review copy provided by the publisher)

 

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

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

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

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

open book logo

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: October 2018 Reads

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

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

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

Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YA/Children’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nonfiction

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

Poetry

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


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

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

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

Open Book logo -f

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

 

#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