On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

On My Bookshelf: Ashes, Visible and Invisible

The Catholic Teen Books authors, many of whom I have the pleasure to call my friends, have put together their fourth short-story collection. Ashes: Visible and Invisible releases January 31, 2023 on the feast of St. John Bosco, the patron saint of teenagers.

 

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Ashes contains ten short stories by Theresa Linden, Marie Keiser, Cynthia Toney, Ellen Gable, Antony Kolenc, Amanda Lauer, Carolyn Astfalk, Leslea Wahl, T.M. Gaouette, and Corinna Turner. All of them have some connection to Lent, and each story stands on its own. You can enjoy these stories in any order.

Ashes, like all the CTB story collections, is packed with well-written stories that are faithfully Catholic. The stories feature teenagers growing in faith and virtue—teenagers facing true-to-life situations, teenagers dealing with moral dilemmas, teenagers seeking to know the right thing to do. Settings for the stories vary from the time of Jesus to the Middle Ages to modern times and a dystopian future. There’s something for every reader, and you might even enjoy exploring a new-to-you genre.

One of my favorite things about the CTB story collections is that many of the stories are connected to these authors’ larger-format work. The characters you meet in these collections might be minor characters from a novel, or a story might include a bonus scene that picks up where a novel leaves off. These stories are a great way to get to know a particular author’s work, and after each story you’ll find a note from the author explaining where you can read more about that character.

 

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Take a peek into the stories you’ll read in Ashes:

  • When Liz’s faith journey hits a roadblock, will an unexpected detour and chance encounter set her back on track?
  • A teen’s future was all set—before his tragic loss. But his friend’s secret past just might save it.
  • Justin’s religion is outlawed. When an unbeliever asks him about the meaning of life, what can he say?
  • Could God be asking Paul to sacrifice a piece of himself for Lent—literally?
  • A modern American teen discovers what faith, life and love are like in seventeenth-century Scotland.
  • Teenager Lexie Dugan struggles to understand the sacrifice of Lent when she’s asked to help take care of her siblings while her pregnant mother is on bed rest.
  • Asher’s desire to prepare for the Messiah intensifies after he’s robbed by bandits but would fighting alongside the Zealots be the best way?
  • When a risky Ash Wednesday mission to sterilize T. rex eggs goes wrong, fasting is the least of Joshua, Darryl, and Harry’s worries.
  • A medieval girl stranded on a forsaken path confronts threats from without and turmoil from within.
  • Struggling with loss, hunger, and temptation, Ethan finds himself walking in the steps of Jesus.

Visit CatholicTeenBooks.com to learn more about the authors behind this story collection and the mission of Catholic Teen Books.

 

 

Catholic Teen Books is offering a fun prize pack in conjunction with this giveaway! Enter today to win a copy of Ashes, Lenten socks, a handmade rosary, devotional for teens, and more! This giveaway ends on release day, January 31.

 

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Copyright 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images: courtesy of CatholicTeenBooks.com

A copy of this book was provided to me for the purposes of this article.

This article contains Amazon affiliate links, which provide a small compensation to the author of this piece when purchases are made through the links, at no cost to you. Thank you for your support. 

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

On My Bookshelf: Summer at West Castle

Theresa Linden deftly bridges the gap between her West Brothers series for young adults and the new-adult Anyone But Him with this novel that details the summer Caitlyn spends working in the Wests’ castle, while Jarrett, her friend Roland’s older brother who had yet to redeem his reputation as a ladies’ man, ponders God’s plan for his life. Caitlyn had looked forward to spending the summer as a kind of working retreat, but Jarrett’s presence challenges and upsets her.

Summer at West Castle is a fascinating story of two young people seeking to figure out God’s will in their lives.

 

 

Summary:

College student Caitlyn Summer arrives at the Wests’ castle-like house to fill in for their live-in maid. After a recent decision blows her vision of the future, this ideal job and the peaceful surroundings are just what she needs to seek God’s will for her life. That is, until Jarret West, not wanting a repeat of past mistakes, backs out of a summer-long field study overseas and returns home. The two have never gotten along, and unforgettable baggage from the past makes it hard even to be cordial. While Jarret’s faults convince Caitlyn he hasn’t changed, she forces herself to offer kindness. Her act of mercy puts them on an unexpected path where Caitlyn is challenged to look beneath the surface and Jarret struggles to trust that God wills good for him. (Note: to avoid spoilers, read this story only after reading Anyone but Him.)

 

Looking back on the West Brothers series as a whole, seeking and following God’s will is the overarching theme of all the books. There are definitely moments where Theology of the Body takes center stage, particularly in Book 2: Life-Changing Love, but discernment is top of mind for the teens in these stories, as it is for every teen: What will I do with my life? Where will I go to college—or will I? Am I in love, and is this person the one I will spend my life with?

I’ve enjoyed watching Caitlyn, Roland, Jarrett, Peter, Keefe, and the other characters in the West Brothers series grow as the stories progress, and I’ll admit I’ll be sad when Theresa announces that the series is complete.

 

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Copyright 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Amazon affiliate links are included; your purchase through these links supports the author.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the author for the purposes of this review. The opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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7 Quick Takes: Un-Christmas-ing Edition

Today in the USA we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. With that, the Christmas season comes to an end.

(One) It’s time … to take down the Christmas tree.

This is me, with a big case of the “I don’t wannas.” I put the tree up, strung all the lights, and decorated it all by myself this year. (Normally I do the lights, because nobody else in the house is willing to bother with a Christmas-light total that has a comma in the number, and the kids decorate. Empty-nest problems.)

I’m back at work, but my husband is still using his banked “use or lose” vacation time and my college student has another week of winter break. I think this task needs to be delegated this year.

 

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(Two) And put it in the body bag.

The bag for this Christmas tree is 5 feet tall, and so wide it barely fits through the exterior doors of the house. We keep our tree in the shed. This year I’m going to be smart about it. It’s easier to carry the 5 pieces of the tree down the stairs, out the back door, and through the porch to the backyard and THEN put them in the body bag than it is to bag everything up in the living room and wrestle it outside without damaging anything.

 

(Three) On the up side, I’ll get my living room back.

As a creature of habit, it does drive me crazy that I have to move my Reading Chair every year to make room for the Christmas tree. I look forward to putting that chair back by the window, with its lamp nearby, the way it belongs.

 

(Four) My reputation precedes me.

Overheard after Mass yesterday, when the usher came over to hand bulletins to the musicians:

Singer: Oh, Mass tomorrow is for my mom, but I can’t be there because I have an appointment.

Music director: Barb will be there! She’ll pray for your mom!

Join me in praying for the repose of the soul for Mrs. B, would you?

 

(Five) Regarding Mass intentions

Do you pay attention to the list of Mass intentions in your parish bulletin? It’s not just there for the people who go to daily Mass. You can pray for the repose of those souls whether you attend daily Mass or not. Consider adding that prayer after a meal, just like we used to do after lunch in the Catholic grade school I attended:

We give Thee thanks for all Thy benefits, Almighty God, who lives and reigns, world without end. Amen. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

 

(Six) Tonight, swap out the breviary!

Don’t forget to move the holy cards! If you pray the Liturgy of the Hours using the 4-volume breviary, tonight after Evening Prayer you’ll need to bring out the Ordinary Time I volume and put away Advent/Christmas.

My husband likes Ordinary Time I because it means summer is coming. I’m not ready to think that far ahead (after 7 weeks we’re switching again, into the Lent/Easter volume) but his particular liturgical year revolves around the opening of the pool, conveniently timed right around Holy Saturday if it doesn’t rain that day.

 

(Seven) Book News

There’s a great sale right now on The Handy Little Guide to Prayer: it’s more than 50% off on Amazon right now! There’s no better time to order a copy for yourself or your friends.

 

 

If you’ve read this Handy Little Guide, would you kindly do me a favor and leave an Amazon review? One sentence is plenty; those reviews help other Amazon customers who are thinking about what book to purchase AND they help get the book in front of other readers in Amazon’s recommendations section. Thanks!

In other book news, my next book comes out in less than three months! You can preorder The Handy Little Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours now (and if the price drops before the release date, you’ll get it at the lower price). Did take 6 leave you puzzled? This new book will explain it all.

 

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Copyright 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photos copyright 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.
Amazon links included; I make a small profit when you use these affiliate links, at no additional cost to you.

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

An Open Book: Self-Improvement Edition

#OpenBook: (Month, Year) Reads

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Since it’s January, “new year new you” and all of that, I thought I’d focus on some self-improvement books that have come my way recently.

I read these differently than I read fiction, dipping into and out of them and flipping around, rather than diving in (as I do with a novel) and not coming up for air until I’ve finished.

A different kind of planner

nullI was offered a review copy of The Saintmaker Catholic Life Planner, and I’m always willing to try out a new planner. This is different from any planner I’ve used before. First of all, it’s a quarterly book (and it’s as big as a full-year week-at-a-time planner already). It has daily, weekly, and monthly planning sections as well as goal-setting sections, a generous notebook section (that’s my “bullet journal” for various lists, monthly meal planning, things like that. There are three ribbons to help save my place in the different sections of the planner as well as three virtue tracker bookmarks, one for each month the planner covers.

There’s a lot in here, as you can see from this photo of the 2-page daily spread. I have not used all of this in the course of a day, but as the week has gone on, I’ve tried these various sections—appointments, to-do list, notes are my big three, and there are also gratitudes, daily cross, devotions, meditation journal, and examination of conscience. Slowly I’m figuring out what works for me. Even with all the structure this planner has, there’s room for flexibility and customization, which I appreciate!

Bonus features include weekly examination of conscience worksheets, discernment journal, prayer intention list, Catholic themes for day, week, and month, and novena starter guide. I’ll be sharing more about The Saintmaker planner on my social media as the quarter goes on.

You can save 10% on The Saintmaker planner with affiliate code FRANCISCANMOM.

 

Habits of Freedom

nullI am not very familiar with Ignatian spirituality, but I have heard it said (more than once) that the saint was very practical-minded, and I am all about that! Habits of Freedom: 5 Ignatian Tools for Clearing Your Mind and Resting Daily with the Lord by Christopher S. Collins, SJ (Ave Maria Press) is an excellent book for a new beginning.

Discerning how to proceed with life—not just with big decisions, but with more immediate habits of daily living—is crucial if we want to stay on track. To be happy. To be free. To be free enough to love and to live fully. (ix)

Each chapter ends with Exercises to Cultivate Habits of Freedom. These are great journal prompts. And at the back of the book, there’s a small-group discussion guide that makes me wish I were part of a small group reading this book.

My friend Deanna Bartalini has been dedicating episodes of her Not Lukewarm Podcast to a chapter-by-chapter discussion of this book, and I’ve enjoyed hearing a second perspective on what I’d already read on my own. I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

 

Ignatius on Forgiveness

nullIt’s pretty curious that two Ignatian books have landed in front of me at the same time, but sometimes that’s how things happen, and that often means God’s trying to tell me something. The Ignatian Guide to Forgiveness: 10 Steps to Healing by Marina Berzins McCoy (Loyola Press) is an excellent guide to letting go of the paint that keeps us from moving forward with forgiveness, and with our lives.

The author walks you through stories from Scripture, Ignatian teaching, and real-life stories in each chapter, concluding the chapters with prayers and (often) practical ways to apply the principles described in each chapter.

I’m still reading this one, bit by bit in the Adoration chapel. This is definitely a book that lends itself to this approach.

 

Too Busy? Read this one!

nullI moved The Busy Person’s Guide to an Extraordinary Life by Deacon Greg Kandra (The Word Among Us Press) to the top of my “to be read” pile when I realized I’d purchased it more than a year ago and never gotten around to reading it. There’s no excuse! I’ve been a longtime fan of Deacon Greg’s work because his writing is clear, precise, simple, and accessible. There’s nothing complicated here; Deacon Greg is a terrific writer and inspiring storyteller.

Chapters are brief and can be read in any order. They include a meditation, which sometimes comes with an anecdote or three; “Consider This” with long quotes to ponder; “Try This” with a challenge; and “Pray This.”

 

This Bible Is Much More than a Pretty Face

nullThe brand-new Living the Word Catholic Women’s Bible from Ave Maria Press is undoubtedly beautiful, inside and out. I don’t know who did the book design for this, but the design team outdid themselves on this one.

I think it’s good to have a beautiful Bible. First of all, beauty invites you to look inside, and the first step to reading the Bible is opening the Bible. There are lovely touches throughout, from colorful headings to invitations to further reflection to the “Women of the Word” and “Living in the Light of Faith” and several other series of reflective essays sprinkled throughout the book. These essays, along with the boxes labeled “Take It to Heart” and the ruled journaling space on nearly ever page, offer opportunities to personalize this Bible by frequent reading, reflection, prayer, and writing. If you want to read the Bible more this year, this is the Bible for you. (Review copy received from publisher)

 

Visit the January #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 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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.

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Sacramental Stories

Recently I read the new book by Allison Gingras, Encountering Signs of Faith: My Unexpected Journey with Sacramentals, the Saints, and the Abundant Grace of God. Interspersed with stories of Allison’s own spiritual journey as she and her husband adopted a profoundly deaf young child from China is “sneaky evangelism” about grace and the ways it’s shown to us—and the ways we hold our faith in our hearts. Allison had to make the faith visible and tangible to her daughter, but the Church made that easy for her through its traditions of sacred art and sacramentals.

 

This book contains not only a fascinating testimony but also an invitation to make your faith personal, by incorporating meaningful devotions, developing relationships with saints, and learning to see God’s grace and providence in every aspect of your life.

 

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As I read Encountering Signs of Faith, I was reminded of the many sacramentals with which I’m surrounded every day. I’ve had this little prayer card of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in my kitchen window for at least fifteen. My grandmother kept a larger version of the same image in her kitchen, and having this image in my kitchen not only helps me recall my grandmother, but reminds me to look to the Blessed Mother as an example of my motherly vocation.

While I didn’t inherit my grandmother’s picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, I do have her statue of the Infant of Prague. That’s another treasure from her house that is now in my office, behind my desk, watching over me (and my work) every day. I remember from my childhood that my grandmother would keep blessed candles in front of the statue, and if a bad storm came, she would light those candles and pray there. I don’t know the story behind that devotion, or whether it’s something she did on her own, but that was her custom.

 

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This little grouping of crosses hangs near the Infant in my office. I have several San Damiano crosses around the house; as a Secular Franciscan, those are precious to me. There’s so much going on in that icon! I purchased the tin Sacred Heart cross at the Catholic Marketing Network trade show one year, and my daughter gave me the milagros cross, which she purchased at the Shrine of Saint John Neumann in Philadelphia.

 

 

In my office window, you’ll find this tiny Nativity scene, figurines of various saints (those move around; some are on my desk as prayer reminders, and others are near the window), my jar of rosaries and chaplets—which would be full if I collected the ones in my handbag and on various tables around the house—and a big bottle of holy water.

 

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My sacramentals might be a little dusty, but they’re reminders of what I believe in and what I’m here to do each day. To me, they’re simple treasures.

Ask for Encountering Signs of Faith at your local Catholic bookseller, or order it from Amazon.com or the publisher, Ave Maria Press.

 


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Photos copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Your purchases made through the Amazon affiliate links in this post support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

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New Season, New Devotionals

‘Tis the season to think about a new devotional. Whether you prefer a daily or weekly format, you’ll find something to love about these five new prayer resources. The first three are weekly devotionals; the final pair offer daily reflections.

One Sunday at a Time by Mark Hart

I’ve had this book for weeks and have been impatiently waiting to really begin reading it—because it’s designed to help prepare for Sunday Mass! One Sunday at a Time: Preparing Your Heart for Weekly Mass by Mark Hart is a companion to the Cycle A readings that begin in Advent (November 27 this year), from Ave Maria Press. This is a companion to Cycle A (2023, 2026) so I’m hoping we can expect similar volumes for Cycles B and C.

You’ll want to have the readings available when you use this book (or a Bible where you can look them up). After an opening prayer, you’ll get a look at the message in these readings—and some behind-the-scenes info, always fascinating to me—and then there are some journal questions and a challenge for the week. You can even use the journal questions as conversation starters! This book will help you dig deeper into the meaning of each Sunday’s Mass readings and apply them to your life.

As a musician in my parish, I admit that I need to be focused on the next cue, to be ready to start hymns and acclamations at just the right moment. This means I’m not paying attention to what I’d really like to pay attention to. I look forward to using this book this year, outside of Mass, to help fill in what I’ve missed.

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Loving God, Loving Others from Blessed Is She

Of the five devotionals listed here, this one wins the prize for Most Likely To Be Given as a Gift. Loving God, Loving Others: 52 Devotions to Create Connections That Last is a beautiful book that would make a lovely gift for a friend, mother, or sister. This multi-author volume is set up in a fascinating way: each of the six authors has written a particular section of the book, each exploring the different types of relationships we experience throughout our lives and sharing from her heart about her own path of growth within that particular type of relationship.

Authors Beth Davis, Megan Hjelmstad, Nell O’Leary, Bonnie Engstrom, Sarah Erickson, and Emily Stimpson Chapman offer three-page-per-week meditations, followed by a brief recommended Gospel reading and two questions for prayer and journaling. A brief discussion opens each section, and reflections are interspersed with simply illustrated pull quotes. The book is printed on lush, thick paper and includes illustrated end papers, a white ribbon bookmark, and a dedication page.

Loving God, Loving Others is not tied to the liturgical or calendar year, so you (or your friend) can begin praying with this book at any time.

 

Reflections on the Sunday Gospel by Pope Francis

Reflections on the Sunday Gospel: How to More Fully Live Out Your Relationship with God by Pope Francis (Image Books) is a compilation of homilies or talks given by the Pope at the Angelus prayers over the years and readings from the Church Fathers. Each weekly entry begins with an excerpt from that Sunday’s Gospel, but not the full Gospel, so you’ll want to have a Bible or missal nearby.

The homilies are brief, running about 3 pages each, with an additional page or so for the reading from the Church Fathers. The Introduction by Pope Francis is excellent, accessible catechesis about paying attention at Mass, teaching our children, and “encountering the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord”—and what the homily is there for in the first place.

Reflections on the Sunday Gospel is for the Cycle A readings only, though I had to go hunting to verify that information. The back of the book provides dates for each Sunday in the next 3 incidences of Cycle A (2023, 2026, 2029) and a table of sources for both the Pope’s and the Church Fathers’ selections.

 

What Matters Most and Why by Jim Manney

For anyone interested in Ignatian spirituality, Jim Manney’s What Matters Most and Why: Living the Spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola offers 365 daily reflections inspired by Ignatian wisdom. Each daily entry begins with a quote, mostly from Jesuits throughout history but from other sources as well, including Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, the wisdom of Alcoholics Anonymous, and occasionally Scripture. Following that is a brief two-paragraph reflection on this quote.

Jesuit spirituality ultimately invites us to a way of living and leading characterized by heroism, self-awareness, love, and ingenuity. (Chris Lowrey in the Foreword)

The entries in What Matters Most and Why follow monthly themes, including Awareness, God, Love, Freedom, Work, Desire, Humility, Compassion and Trust, Choosing Well, Relationships, Practical Truths, and Becoming the Person You Are Meant to Be. This daily devotional is a good way to dip your toe into this powerful spiritual way of life.

 

 

A Year in the Word by Meg Hunter-Kilmer

If your goal is to read the Bible in a year but podcasts aren’t your thing, Meg Hunter-Kilmer has your answer with A Year in the Word Catholic Bible Journal from Our Sunday Visitor. You’ll need your Bible handy as you use this journal. A one-year reading plan is the first thing you’ll find as you open this book, with a checkbox next to each day’s reading, so if you miss a day (or more than a day) it’s easy to pick right up where you left off.

You can start using A Year in the Word whenever you want, as the reading plan is not tied to the liturgical or calendar year. In the Introduction, the author explains that her reading plan (which includes a psalm or part of one, a section from the Gospels, and chapters from either the Old or New Testament each day) is not a chronological approach but one that mixes the “harder books” with easier ones (her words) to keep you moving along and motivated to do so. By using this reading plan, you’ll actually work through each of the four Gospels twice.

This hardbound journal, with its sage-green cover, thick cream-colored pages, and simple design, will appeal to men and women alike. Wide lined spaces at the bottom of each brief daily reflection invite you to record your thoughts, and a timeline at the end traces the writing of the books of the Bible and the major events in salvation history.

 

 

 

 

 


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Images: Canva

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

An Open Book: October 2022

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. It’s been quite a while since I’ve done these! I always enjoy recapping the books I’ve read … but sometimes things get away from me. So here’s a taste of what I read this summer. Mostly, this is a Kindle recap, because if I got a library book that I’ve since read and returned, all bets are off.

Recently I reread In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this book. The Kindle version I purchased had a fascinating introduction that I’d never read before and isn’t included in my print edition. Rumer Godden is an amazing storyteller and this is one of her best; it’s so easy to lose yourself in the story of a woman with a late vocation, entering a Benedictine monastery in rural England in the early 1950s. (And while Philippa is clearly the main character, another principal in the story emerges as the heroine for me: Abbess Catherine, who famously prayed, “I can’t, so You must.” Best prayer in a novel, hands down.) I’d give it 10 stars out of 5.

 

nullI grabbed a Netgalley offer for a cookbook and I’m glad I did. Tastes Better from Scratch: Easy Recipes for Everyday Life by Lauren Allen introduced me to a new recipe source. I liked that the book was packed with pictures, because I like to see what I’m going to be cooking. The author also included hints for modifying the recipes to allow for different cooking methods (make-ahead, make from frozen) and also modifying for different tastes. These recipes were easy to follow and left the door wide open to personalization. This is a good family-style cookbook. 4 stars.

 

Victoria Everleigh’s The Hope We Vow completes her Vows for Life series. Sadie Rosati, sister to the main character in The Love We Vow, has returned to the faith and is trying to figure out what God wants for her life after her boyfriend doesn’t react well to learning the secret that’s burdened her since her teenage years. Sadie’s explorations lead her not only to new relationships but to the possibility of consecrated life; exploring that possibility opens a door for her to use her musical gifts in a new and unexpected way. A satisfying end to the series. 4 stars.

 

The debut novel Grieving Daughter’s Club by Andrea Bear brings together a cast of characters who might not ordinarily meet (much less become friends) but do so because of a book discussion group at their church. Many of them share the bond of having lost a parent. This is a wonderful story of developing friendships, and of women who literally come to the point of being willing to lay down their lives for each other. By the end of the book, you’ll feel as if these characters are your friends too. Worth a reread! 5 stars.

 

I don’t remember how I heard about Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, but this middle-grade historical novel set in Depression-era Kansas was a delightful read, despite the hardships 12-year-old Abilene has endured in her lifetime. Sent to Manifest on her own by her father, Abilene sets out to find out what really happened during her father’s childhood and unlock the long-buried secrets of the town. The side characters are just as winning as Abilene. 5 stars.

 

The dads take over the PTA in Schooled by Ted Fox, a hilarious novel about rival stay-at-home dads running a cutthroat campaign for the presidency of the PTA in the socially competitive school their young children attend. If you thought PTA moms were bad, they’ve got nothing on Jack and his childhood nemesis Chad, who seems willing to stop at nothing to make sure he wins this election. Plenty of politically-correct everything, but the story is worth getting past all that. 4 stars.

 

And in a completely different vein, The Girl They Left Behind by Roxane Veletzos is a deeply tragic World War II story, which begins in Bucharest when a three-year-old is found on a doorstep, abandoned by her Jewish parents who hope someone will care for the child while they hide in a neighbor’s attic. They think it will be just for a little while, but things don’t work out the way they had hoped. The story follows Natalia into adulthood and is an eye-opening look at life behind the Iron Curtain. Compelling, but be sure to have a light read afterward as a palate cleanser. 4 stars.

 

One of the best books I read this summer was Amy Matayo’s They Called Her Dirty Sally. Journalist Finn Hardwick arrives in a small Arkansas town reluctantly, assigned to cover the 30th anniversary of a tragic hospital fire that killed several newborns and young mothers. He encounters unexpected resistance from the locals who are unwillling to give up the town’s long-held secrets, and discovered that the hospital fire seems to have a tie to his own life as well as to the reclusive, mysterious woman known as “Dirty Sally,” who has not spoken a word to anyone since the day of the fire. 5 stars.

 

In Perfectly Human, Joseph Dutkowsky, M.D. describes his journey from engineering student to pre-med and on to a series of academic and professional opportunities that led him to dedicate his medical career to caring and advocating for persons (mostly children) with disabilities. It’s evident from the very first page that Dr. Dutkowsky loves his work, and that his patients have been as much a gift to him as he has been to them. Dr. Dutkowsky looks into the eyes of his patients and sees the eyes of Jesus looking back at him. One of the best parts of this book is the love story of the doctor and his wife. If you’re a teacher or the parent of a child with special needs, don’t miss this one. (Review copy received from the author)

 

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!

 


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

Where indicated, books are review copies provided by the author, publisher, or Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.

Start Your Advent Preparations Now!

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

On My Bookshelf: Perfectly Human by Joseph Dutkowsky, MD

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Image: Stencil

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

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

An Open Book: July 2022

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

Fiction

Shadowed Loyalty by Roseanna M. White. Sabina, daughter of a Chicago mob boss in the days just before Al Capone’s rise to power, discovers she’d been played: the handsome young man who’d been secretly courting her is actually a government agent seeking to take down her father. But Sabina’s secret love life is unwelcome news to the young man who’d loved her since childhood—her fiancé, who puts aside his own code of ethics to get Sabina’s father out of legal trouble. A fascinating story. 5 stars.

 

For a Noble Purpose by Kelsey Gietl. Built on a premise from an episode in the Book of Tobit, the novel follows a young woman whose seven husband all died mysteriously shortly following the wedding, before the marriage could be consummated. Immediately after the death of the seventh, Sarah and the slave woman she grew up with run away to join a wagon train led by Tobias Lark and his brothers, a family of men with extraordinary gifts who seek to start a new community in the Washington Territory. An interesting look at wagon-train life from a privileged woman’s perspective. 4 stars.

 

So THAT Happened: An Accidental Romantic Comedy by Katie Bailey. Instagram posts from this author finally got me to buy this book, and it was a fun story. After a flight cancellation, Annie winds up having to share a hotel room—and a bed—with her handsome but grumpy seatmate from the plane, and she even pretends he’s her new boyfriend when she encounters her old boyfriend and his pregnant girlfriend in the airport. But she figures they’ll never see each other again … until she arrives at her new job Monday morning and discovers he’s the CEO. This clean romance would make a hilarious movie. 4 stars.

 

Meet Me in the Margins by Melissa Ferguson. Assistant-editor Savannah works at a publisher whose CEO considers romance novels too pedestrian for their lineup, but she’s secretly working on one to pitch to a competitor. After hiding her manuscript in a secret room, she returns later to discover someone’s been editing it—and making it infinitely better. This begins a back-and-forth, complete with scheduled secret-room runs so author and editor will be guaranteed never to meet. All the while, Savannah wonders who else knows about the room, and who’s working on her book. Thorougly enjoyable. 5 stars.

 

Beach Wedding on the Rocks by Maddie Evans. Noah and Elsie, known for their pranks during their high-school days and former high-school sweethearts, team up against the guy who was the cause of their breakup 8 years ago. During the week before the wedding, they stage elaborate schemes to dish out some cold revenge, and find themselves battling old feelings while they’re thrown together in hilarious situations. As always, this author’s greatest strength is her characters’ banter. 4 stars.

 

Not Until Someday by Valerie M. Bodden. Grace has a plan to renovate the house she just inherited from her grandfather into a bed-and-breakfast. She also has a life plan, right down to all the qualifications and characteristics of her future husband. When former NFL great Levi shows up as the contractor for her project, she resists her attraction to him because he doesn’t check the boxes on her list. This Christian romance was heavy on the Christian, sometimes to the point of getting in the way of the story. 3 stars.

 

Last Summer Boys by Bill Rivers. I’m not even sure how I found out about this one, but what a gem! In this novel set in 1968 rural/Appalachian Pennsylvania, a young teen seeks an opportunity to save his oldest brother from being drafted. He and a cousin, sent to spend the summer outside riot-plagued Chicago, plan an expedition to find a fighter jet that crashed in the area several years ago. Plenty of local color and flavor of the time, when developers sought to take over formerly rural areas and kids could roam for hours in the woods and hills. 5 stars.

 

Blackberry Beach and Sea Glass Cottage by Irene Hannon. While I love the mainstay characters of the Hope Harbor series, I’m starting to feel as if it’s jumped the shark. Nevertheless, these are easy, sweet reads—just right for relaxing during the summer, and solid 4-star tales. I heard there’s another one releasing this fall, and yes—I’ll be looking for it. Because sometimes, this kind of book is exactly what you need.

YA/Children’s

Love and Other Great Expectations by Becky Dean. A medical condition after an injury ends Britt’s soccer career and dreams of going to college. Offered an opportunity to spend a week in England for a contest that could net her the money she needs to replace her lost athletic scholarship, she travels around the country on a competitive scavenger hunt culminating in a Canterbury-Tale themed final project—and meets a young British man on a life quest of his own. This clean YA romance was a terrific read. 5 stars. (Netgalley)

 

Nonfiction

Encountering Signs of Faith: My Unexpected Journey with Sacramentals, the Saints, and the Abundant Grace of God by Allison Gingras. Interspersed with stories of Allison’s own spiritual journey as she and her husband adopted a profoundly deaf young child from China is “sneaky evangelism” about grace and the ways it’s shown to us—and the ways we hold our faith in our hearts. Allison had to make the faith visible and tangible to her daughter, but the Church made that easy for her through its traditions of sacred art and sacramentals. This book contains not only a fascinating testimony but also an invitation to make your faith personal, by incorporating meaningful devotions, developing relationships with saints, and learning to see God’s grace and providence in every aspect of your life. I want to read it again—this time with my journal near at hand. 5 stars. (Netgalley; available September 30 but you can preorder it now.)

 

Beginning Well: 7 Spiritual Practices for the First Year of Almost Anything by Joel Stepanek. I can never resist a “do something for a year” book and this one is a refreshing take on that theme—and a way better idea than making recipes from the same cookbook every day for a year (yeah, I read that one, AND saw the movie; bet you did too). In this new book from Ave Maria Press, Joel Stepanek offers seven spiritual practices to get you through times of transition. It’s a small book, and the author writes in a very down-to-earth, uncomplicated, conversational style. I recommend this easy, encouraging read, no matter what kind of transition you find yourself in. 5 stars. (Netgalley)

 


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

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

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

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

Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz