On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

For Your Advent Reading Pleasure: Grace in Tension

Advent is a busy time for moms. Advent is a time when we can definitely give in to that temptation to be “anxious and worried about many things” — after all, we’re usually the ones who take care of all those details that make our family’s Advent and Christmas celebrations meaningful and special. That means we’re often taking on too much, and midway through Advent finding ourselves nowhere near that ideal of peaceful, intentional preparation.
It’s good, during Advent, to take a little time for ourselves and use the techniques Claire McGarry shares in Grace in Tension to acknowledge our feelings, make an effort to view the situation through God’s eyes, and take action to scale back, even in small ways, so this holy season doesn’t become an unholy frenzy.
Grace in Tension

Why I love this book:

For Catholic women who, like me, deeply identify with Martha in her worry and distraction, Claire’s balanced discussion of how busy women can learn to sit at the feet of Jesus is both a challenge and a gift. Learn to find the grace amid your daily cares and burdens.

When we think about the story of Mary and Martha, it’s very easy to fall into the “Martha bad, Mary good” trap. Claire does not do that in Grace in Tension (and that’s why I’m reading the book for a second time).

When Mary chooses to sit at Jesus’ feet while Martha chooses to serve, I think initially Jesus approves. He knows both decisions are made with the sisters’ hearts. Each sister is living out her “better part” by drawing closer to God with her choice. It’s clear that sitting and listening to all that Jesus has to say definitely brings Mary closer to God. After all, Jesus affirms her choice by calling it “the better part.” Yet choosing to serve Jesus as Martha does can bring her closer to God too. There’s a sacrifice that comes from serving and a beauty in putting others’ needs before our own. Both paths lead straight to God. Martha’s problem isn’t that she chooses to serve. It’s that she eventually compares her choice with her sister’s. (67)

 

It’s not highly likely that I’ll be able to change my natural Martha tendencies. Cooking for my family and our guests is a big part of how I show my love. And over the years, I am happy to report that I have mellowed, so my family doesn’t have to live with Screaming Meemie Party Mom (yes, I’ve been called that and yes, I’m 100% guilty) every time company is expected.

I probably can’t change my tendencies, but as Claire encourages readers of Grace in Tension, I can — and should — derail the anxiety and worry that I often allow to carry me away from the joy of the moment. By taking steps like choosing a new response, drawing healthy boundaries, asking for help (and accepting it without judging), and adjusting expectations, in addition to the 10 other steps Claire outlines in this book, I can find the gifts God has for me in the moments where He has placed me.

Advent is a time to sit at God’s feet. And it’s usually a time when we wrap gifts. This Advent, unwrap God’s gift to you: the grace within your tension and the transformation of your heart and mind.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz

This article contains Amazon links. Your purchase using these links provides a small bonus to me at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support.

Open book autumn

An Open Book: October 2021 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

Jennifer the Damned by Karen Ullo. This is not at all the kind of book I usually read. I don’t touch horror or vampire fiction at all. It is a testament to Karen Ullo’s skill as a writer that I stuck with this book beyond the first 2 chapters – and more than that, couldn’t wait to keep reading. Normally I think of horror books as about as anti-Catholic as they can be, with religion either anathema or afterthought or, at best, superstition. But this is a very, very Catholic book, dealing with themes of conscience, our immortal souls, and the overarching power of the sacraments. The many sides of the title character are well explored: Jennifer as vampire, Jennifer as teenager trying to fit into that world, Jennifer as a child abandoned by her mother (and clearly traumatized by the facts of her own situation and what her mother has taught her), Jennifer as a young woman raised in a convent by religious sisters who don’t know the whole story.

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan. A World War II novel of the British home front. This book really brought home the kinds of deprivations citizens of the UK suffered during the war. Two sisters, a servant, and a professional chef compete for the opportunity to host a radio show helping homemakers work around food shortages and serve nutritious and good-tasting food to their family. All of them face threats to their way of life, and their stories intertwine in interesting and surprising ways. The book includes recipes, but except for the scones, I’ll pass (sheep’s head roll? no way). This was an enjoyable story, with an ending you won’t see coming.

A Freedom Such as Heaven Intended by Amanda Lauer. The latest “Heaven Intended” book, set in the same timeline as A Life Such as Heaven Intended, follows a group of runaway slaves as they begin a perilous and uncertain journey to freedom. Plenty of historical detail leaves the reader immersed in the world of Civil War-era Georgia, as characters struggle to discern whether to risk their lives in the service of others. Faith plays a role, in often surprising ways, in the twists and turns of the plot of this compelling novel. (Advance copy provided by the author.)

A Song for the Road by Kathleen M. Basi. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel where I’ve identified so deeply with a character as I did with Miriam Tedesco, who undertook a cross-country road trip a year after the death of her husband and their twin teenagers in order to handle some unfinished business that was deepening her grief. It wasn’t so much Miriam’s circumstances as it was her personality that I related to: she reacted to things in much the same way I do. Along the way, Miriam encountered a young pregnant woman traveling alone and clearly hiding a medical secret. Outside of a few misses in the Catholic details (Miriam was the music director at a Catholic church) this was a flawless read.

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline. A young woman, physically handicapped due to a mysterious childhood illness (rheumatic fever or polio?), lives in an isolated area of coastal Maine. Artist Andrew Wyeth used her as the inspiration for a famous painting, as she hosted him in the summer for two entire decades, even as her own isolation and physical limitations made the scope of her world no larger than her own living room. This is the kind of book you wish would go on forever – and at 352 pages, it’s good and long already – perfect for a long winter’s read!

The Fault Between Us by Bette Lee Crosby. Historical fiction about the San Francisco Earthquake. Templeton, a driven young woman from Philadelphia who wants nothing more than to create her own fashion line, has a whirlwind romance with a man from California, who marries her and brings her to his grand home in San Francisco. Templeton throws herself into fulfilling her professional ambitions, leaving ideas about family life to the side until tragedy strikes: while she is back in Philadelphia visiting family and experiencing a complicated pregnancy, the earthquake devastates her neighborhood, and her father makes a perilous journey to California to try to find Templeton’s husband. I couldn’t put this one down.

 

YA/Children’s

Dare to be MoreDare to be More: The Witness of Blessed Carlo Acutis by Colleen and Matt Swaim. The 48-page book contains photos of Carlo Acutis throughout his life: as a young child, in kindergarten, building a snowman, praying in an Adoration chapel, and even with his puppy and his soccer team. The book, appropriate for readers 10 and up, discusses the many ways this teenager changed others’ lives for the better. The Swaims explain the Church’s process of declaring someone a saint and describe the miraculous healing of a child in Brazil, healing that has been attributed to the intercession of Carlo Acutis. This led to Acutis’ beatification in October 2020. (Advance copy received from publisher. Read my full review.)

 

Nonfiction

Saintly Moms: 25 Stories of Holiness by Kelly Ann Guest. Moms need friends to inspire us in our vocation, no matter what our stage of motherhood. Kelly Guest’s book introduces you to 25 saintly friends to encourage you in the challenges of parenting. Meet a new holy BFF, and gain a fresh perspective on familiar motherly saints. Saints highlighted in this book include the Blessed Mother, St. Monica, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Rita of Cascia, Venerable Margaret Bosco, St. Gianna Molla, and more, and for the most part are arranged in chronological order. (Advance copy received from publisher; full review coming soon.)

 

Behold the Handmaid of the Lord: A 10-Day Personal Retreat with St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary simplifies de Montfort’s approach without watering down its wisdom. The book, new from Ave Maria Press, is a do-it-yourself retreat that helps readers learn more about Marian consecration. Fr. Edward Looney dedicates each of the ten days of the retreat to a different title of Mary, consolidating teachings from True Devotion to Mary to clarify the rich writings and deepen devotion to the Blessed Mother. His writing style is clear and approachable, and both his scholarship and dedication to Mary are evident throughout the book. Each day’s chapter is 10 pages or less (in a small-format book; it measures just under 5×7 inches) and begins with a teaching on that day’s title of Mary, a prayer for the day, and a traditional Marian prayer or hymn. (Advance copy received from publisher. Read my full review.)

 


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

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

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

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

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewcz

Image: Stencil Pro

statue of Blessed Virgin Mary with Baby Jesus

A Simpler Approach to Marian Consecration

Do you want to grow closer to the Blessed Mother, but find yourself intimidated by the lengthy devotions and lofty language of St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary?  Fr. Edward Looney, a priest of the Diocese of Green Bay and vice president of the Mariological Society of America, has put together a new book to help you prepare for a 33-day consecration to Jesus through Mary.

 

Behold the Handmaid of the Lord

 

Behold the Handmaid of the Lord: A 10-Day Personal Retreat with St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary simplifies de Montfort’s approach without watering down its wisdom. The book, new from Ave Maria Press, is a do-it-yourself retreat that helps readers learn more about Marian consecration.

God is at work through Marian consecration; it is powerful, and it changes lives. (xv)

Fr. Edward dedicates each of the ten days of the retreat to a different title of Mary, consolidating teachings from True Devotion to Mary to clarify the rich writings and deepen devotion to the Blessed Mother. His writing style is clear and approachable, and both his scholarship and dedication to Mary are evident throughout the book.

Each day’s chapter is 10 pages or less (in a small-format book; it measures just under 5×7 inches) and begins with a teaching on that day’s title of Mary, a prayer for the day, and a traditional Marian prayer or hymn. I was surprised to find that Serdeczna Matko (“Stainless the Maiden”), a traditional Polish Marian hymn I recently sang at a funeral at my parish, was one of the hymns included in the book. Its English translation, which I had never read, is beautiful. Other prayers and hymns include the Memorare, Regina Caeli, and “Ave Maris Stella.”

During this retreat, readers will learn about these Marian titles and devotions:

  • Queen of All Saints
  • Our Lady of the Holy Trinity
  • The New Eve
  • Mother of the Interior Life
  • Mother of Disciples
  • Star of the Sea
  • Queen of All Hearts
  • Mediatrix of Grace
  • The Mold of God
  • My Mother and My Queen

I recommend that you keep a pen and journal close at hand as you read Behold the Handmaid of the Lord. I was highlighting this book all over the place as I read!

Bonus material in this book includes a chart of dates to begin Marian consecrations to end on feasts of Mary. The next three start dates are November 5, November 9, and November 29. Another very useful section is a list of 17 devotional practices found in the writings of St. Louis de Montfort. Many of these are practices you can begin with your family, such as praying the Rosary, carrying a Rosary in your pocket, praying or singing prayers and hymns in Mary’s honor, and placing an image of Mary in a place of honor in your home.

Fr. Edward Looney has written several books about Mary and frequently posts on social media about his visits to Marian shrines throughout the United States. Listen to his How They Love Mary podcast on Spotify or your favorite podcast app.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image: Stencil
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.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

New in Catholic Fiction: In Pieces

In this richly detailed post-Revolutionary War love story, Rhonda Ortiz transports the reader to 18th-century Boston. Molly Chase, the beautiful and talented only child of a prominent Boston fabric merchant, suffers nightmares and other mental-health challenges after discovering her father’s body following his suicide. Her family’s former servant, Mrs. Robb, takes her in, but the church ladies find much to gossip about when Mrs. Robb’s young son, Josiah, who’s as close to Molly as a brother, returns to the city from a long sailing journey. And they won’t let up, even though Josiah isn’t even staying in the house.

In Pieces by Rhonda Ortiz

 

With no parents, no husband, and no means of support, Molly decides to turn her hobby into a (literal) cottage industry and uses fabric from her father’s warehouse to start her own business as a dressmaker. Mrs. Robb’s small home, owned by her son, suddenly houses Molly, Mrs. Robb, Josiah’s sister Deborah, and enough cloth to dress half the fashionable young women in Boston. And those young women make fascinating characters in their own right, as does Mrs. Robb.

Readers will cheer for the strong female characters and the smitten, determined hero who battle rigid social expectations and a villain you’ll love to hate. An “oh, no, he didn’t!” King David-style conflict, a Custom-House mystery, some PTSD, and even a little espionage make In Pieces a novel you won’t be able to put down. There’s even a cameo by Alexander Hamilton!

 

 

I called this book Catholic fiction, but you’ll discover in the reading that Molly is actually a member of Old North Church, an Episcopal assembly, and Josiah and his family belong to Old South Church, a Congregational church. But Josiah has friends who are Catholic, and his studies of theology are leading him closer to the Catholic church than his mother, the daughter of a minister, might like. We’ll have to wait until another book in the series to find out how this plays out, but this is not one of those annoying novels that ends on a cliffhanger; it’s a satisfying story all on its own.

I’ve read In Pieces twice already, and chances are good I’ll read it again.

 

 

In Pieces is published by Chrism Press, an imprint of WhiteFire Publishing dedicated to stories informed by Catholic and Orthodox Christianity.

About the author: Rhonda Ortiz is an award-winning novelist, nonfiction writer, and editor. A native Oregonian, she attended St. John’s College in historic Annapolis, Maryland and now lives in Michigan with her husband and five children. Find her online at RhondaOrtiz.com.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images copyright 2021 Rhonda Ortiz, all rights reserved, used with permission.
Amazon links in this article are affiliate links; your purchases benefit the author.
I received an advance copy of this book for the purpose of this review.

Open book autumn

An Open Book: October 2021

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. We’re not even going to talk about how long it’s been since I’ve done a real reading recap. Here’s a (very small) taste of what I’ve been reading:

Fiction

In Pieces by Rhonda OrtizIn Pieces by Rhonda Ortiz is a richly detailed post-Revolutionary War love story. Rhonda Ortiz transports the reader to 18th-century Boston in this well-told love story. Readers will cheer for the strong female characters and the smitten, determined hero who battle rigid social expectations and a villain you’ll love to hate. A King David-style conflict, a Custom-House mystery, some PTSD, and even a little espionage make In Pieces a novel you won’t be able to put down. At one point when I was reading this book, I emailed the author and said, “Did so-and-so seriously just …” (I can’t tell you more, because I don’t want to spoil the fun!). This novel is even better the second time around! (Advance review copy received from author. Full review coming soon.)

Life on the Grocery Line: A Frontline Experience in a Global Pandemic by Adam Jonathan Kaat. I’m honestly not sure if I should file this under “nonfiction” because it’s sort of a memoir/social commentary, but it’s a fictionalized memoir so I’m calling it fiction. It takes place during the first few weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, in March and April 2020. Daniel, a grocery cashier, describes the rapid pace of changes in store procedure, the stress and emotions store workers experienced and expressed as the pandemic began, and the attitudes and actions of store customers. I was interested in reading this book because I’m fascinated by food marketing in general, and because I wanted to see how authors are handling the topic of the global pandemic in their work. This is one of only two authors I’ve seen mention it so far. Although the author spends a lot of time calling out the well-heeled customers of an upscale grocery store for the way they treated store employees, I think snobbery goes both ways. He was very contemptuous of the customers. Be warned: the language in this book is fairly raw. (Advance review copy received from author.)

Mr. Nicholas: A Magical Christmas TaleMr. Nicholas by Christopher De Vinck. A sweet Christmas-themed novella. The title character is not the main character in this story of a young dad who doesn’t know how to relate to his 10-year-old son with Down syndrome, nor his artistic wife who has begun divorce proceedings. When his son JB becomes fascinated with Mr. Nicholas, the friendly but mysterious hardware store owner, Jim begins to look at the people around him with new eyes. And as Christmas approaches, some very interesting things start to happen around that hardware store. Who, exactly, is Mr. Nicholas? It seems like only a little boy knows the truth. A fun read! (Advance review copy received from publisher.)

Autumn by the SeaAutumn by the Sea (Muir Harbor #1) by Melissa Tagg. Sydney, abandoned as a toddler and on her own after aging out of foster care, is contacted by a private investigator who thinks she’s the long-lost granddaughter of an elderly woman who owns a blueberry farmer in Maine. The woman’s three adopted children, all young adults as well, are skeptical, but Sydney has to find out if there’s a true family connection. A sweet romance and exploration of family bonds.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. Edward feels like he’s anything but a “miracle boy,” as the sole survivor of the plane crash that killed his parents and older brother. At 12, he has to start over in a new town with his aunt and uncle, who grieve the same loss as well as their inability to have children. The story is told in split time, varying between a minute-by-minute account of the doomed flight and the back stories of some of the passengers, and the 6 years Edward spends in middle and high school in the suburbs, a time he gets through because of his friendship with the girl next door, Shay, who patiently helps him process his emotions as they go through the sacks of letters the “miracle boy” receives from total strangers, including many family members of other passengers on that flight who seek some sort of closure and intend to get it from him.

YA/Children’s

Old Men Don’t Walk to Egypt: Friends in High Places #2 by Corinna Turner. Katie has the boyfriend every girl wants, but he’s controlling and not at all nice to her. When Daniel, a social outcast, suggests Katie study St. Joseph for a school project, she wonders how relevant this saint could be to her life. A relatable story with memorable characters in real-life situations. This series combines compelling fiction with facts about saints whose lives and actions can inspire teens today. This novella is appropriate for readers 12 and up.

The Fire of Eden by Antony Barone Kolenc. Antony Kolenc’s third book in The Harwood Mysteries series of historical novels for readers 10 and up is a suspenseful novel set in 12th-century England. The Fire of Eden continues the story of Xan, a teenage orphan who lives with other orphans at a monastery. Parents and teachers will appreciate the 2-page readers guide, “How to read historical fiction,” at the front of the book, and the author has also provided a map of Xan’s world, a glossary of religious and historical terms, and an author’s historical note that explains Church and feudal practices of that time and place. In this story, an accident causes John, who’s been Xan’s nemesis in the monastery for quite some time, to lose his sight. Angry at his sudden dependence on those around him, John is more cruel than ever, but Xan is forced to cooperate with him as they seek to solve the mystery of a missing precious ruby belonging to a young monk who’s about to be ordained to the priesthood. Along the way, they encounter dishonest monks, traitorous guards, and a frightening magician who lives in the woods. This novel would make a very exciting movie! (Advance review copy received from publisher.)

The Case of the Campground Creature: Sisters of the Last Straw #7 by Karen Kelly Boyce. I will never miss a chance to read an installment of the Sisters of the Last Straw series by Karen Kelly Boyce (TAN Books). Written for young readers age 6 to 12, the characters in these chapter books form a community of religious sisters who struggle, not always successfully (but always hilariously), with bad habits. Even though they don’t succeed all the time, they do try to be patient with their own faults and those of others, and to help and encourage each other along the way. In The Case of the Campground Creature, the Sisters are given a camper and decide to take a much-needed vacation. When the camper breaks down on the way to their destination, they’re towed to a new campground while the repair shop waits for parts to fix the camper. But the new campground isn’t as welcoming as it seems at first: dark woods, strange noises, and a mysterious creature frighten the Sisters, most of whom have never camped before. You don’t have to read the books in this series in order. The Case of the Campground Creature would make a fun family (or classroom) read-aloud, especially at this time of year since the book has a spooky (but not too scary) theme. (Advance review copy received from publisher.)

Lucia of Fatima: Brave Hearts #3 by Kathryn Griffin Swegart is an excellent introduction to the story of the apparitions at Fatima. It is the third book in a series of children’s books about courageous Catholics whose faith changed their lives in extraordinary ways. Told from the point of view of Lucia, who was 10 years old when the Blessed Mother first appeared to her and her younger cousins at Fatima, this historical novel gives readers a look into what it was like for the young visionary and how her life was changed afterward. The author, a gifted storyteller, skillfully portrayed each scene. The story brings home the message that you are never too young to follow God’s call. Lucia of Fatima is written for ages 10 and up, but would be a good read-aloud for age 7 and up. (Advance review copy received from author.)

In the Palace of the Great King by Julie Ash. This novel for middle-school readers and up follows two young girls as they try to make sense of their place in the world and God’s place in their hearts. In the Palace of the Great King explores themes of religious vocation, teenage pregnancy, poverty’s effects on the family, and the call to conversion. Three teens from two very different backgrounds meet when they take shelter in an urban church during a terrible storm. Char, who lives in the shadow of her younger sister Kayla, feels overcome by loneliness; Tia is overwhelmed by school, her job, and caring for her little brother when the adults in her life are unable to watch him after school. All three are changed after they stumble into that church, with Char struggling to make sense of her mother’s violent objections to religion and the prolife movement, and Tia wondering if God is calling her to join the community of nuns who welcomed the girls during the storm. Currently In the Palace of the Great King is available only on Kindle; a bound version is due out later this year. (Advance review copy received from author.)

Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte, illustrated by Ann Xu. I’m not a big fan of graphic novels, but this one caught my eye with its emphasis on cooking. Cici, who dearly misses the grandmother her family left behind when they moved to the USA from Taiwan, decides to enter a cooking contest for kids to earn the money for a plane ticket so her grandmother can visit. Determined to fit in even though she only knows how to cook Taiwanese food, Cici perseveres through the contest as well as school pressures and the challenges of making new friends in middle school. This was a well-told story of persistence, the importance of family, and true friendship.


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 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Four Fall Reads for Kids and Teens

Are your kids looking for some new reading material? You can count on the content of these four new books to be fascinating and faithfully Catholic. They’re listed in order from youngest to oldest audience. Three of these books are parts of series, but thanks to their skillful authors, readers can jump right into the stories (though they’ll probably want to catch up on the rest after reading one).

 

The Case of the Campground Creature: Sisters of the Last Straw #7

I will never miss a chance to read an installment of the Sisters of the Last Straw series by Karen Kelly Boyce (TAN Books). Written for young readers age 6 to 12, the characters in these chapter books form a community of religious sisters who struggle, not always successfully (but always hilariously), with bad habits. Even though they don’t succeed all the time, they do try to be patient with their own faults and those of others, and to help and encourage each other along the way.

 

Sisters of the Last Straw book 7

 

In The Case of the Campground Creature, the Sisters are given a camper and decide to take a much-needed vacation. When the camper breaks down on the way to their destination, they’re towed to a new campground while the repair shop waits for parts to fix the camper. But the new campground isn’t as welcoming as it seems at first: dark woods, strange noises, and a mysterious creature frighten the Sisters, most of whom have never camped before.

You don’t have to read the books in this series in order. The Case of the Campground Creature would make a fun family (or classroom) read-aloud, especially at this time of year since the book has a spooky (but not too scary) theme.

 

Lucia of Fatima: Brave Hearts #3

Lucia of Fatima by Catholic Mom contributor Kathryn Griffin Swegart is an excellent introduction to the story of the apparitions at Fatima. It is the third book in a series of children’s books about courageous Catholics whose faith changed their lives in extraordinary ways.

 

 

Told from the point of view of Lucia, who was 10 years old when the Blessed Mother first appeared to her and her younger cousins at Fatima, this historical novel gives readers a look into what it was like for the young visionary and how her life was changed afterward. The author, a gifted storyteller, skillfully portrayed each scene. The story brings home the message that you are never too young to follow God’s call. Lucia of Fatima is written for ages 10 and up, but would be a good read-aloud for age 7 and up.

 

The Fire of Eden: The Harwood Mysteries #3

Antony Kolenc’s third book in The Harwood Mysteries series of historical novels for readers 10 and up is a suspenseful novel set in 12th-century England (Loyola Press). The Fire of Eden continues the story of Xan, a teenage orphan who lives with other orphans at a monastery. Parents and teachers will appreciate the 2-page readers guide, “How to read historical fiction,” at the front of the book, and the author has also provided a map of Xan’s world, a glossary of religious and historical terms, and an author’s historical note that explains Church and feudal practices of that time and place.

 

 

In The Fire of Eden, an accident causes John, who’s been Xan’s nemesis in the monastery for quite some time, to lose his sight. Angry at his sudden dependence on those around him, John is more cruel than ever, but Xan is forced to cooperate with him as they seek to solve the mystery of a missing precious ruby belonging to a young monk who’s about to be ordained to the priesthood. Along the way, they encounter dishonest monks, traitorous guards, and a frightening magician who lives in the woods. (This novel would make a very exciting movie!)

 

In the Palace of the Great King

Julie Ash’s novel for middle-school readers and up follows two young girls as they try to make sense of their place in the world and God’s place in their hearts. In the Palace of the Great King explores themes of religious vocation, teenage pregnancy, poverty’s effects on the family, and the call to conversion.

 

 

Three teens from two very different backgrounds meet when they take shelter in an urban church during a terrible storm. Char, who lives in the shadow of her younger sister Kayla, feels overcome by loneliness; Tia is overwhelmed by school, her job, and caring for her little brother when the adults in her life are unable to watch him after school. All three are changed after they stumble into that church, with Char struggling to make sense of her mother’s violent objections to religion and the prolife movement, and Tia wondering if God is calling her to join the community of nuns who welcomed the girls during the storm. Currently In the Palace of the Great King is available only on Kindle; a bound version is due out later this year.

 


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
I received review copies of each of these books, and no other compensation, from the publisher or author. Opinions expressed here are my own.
This article contains Amazon affiliate links.

Back-to-School Special: Amy Cattapan’s New Book for Teachers

Just in time for the beginning of the school year, Ave Maria Press has released Amy J. Cattapan’s first nonfiction book, Sweet Jesus, Is It June Yet? 10 Ways the Gospels Can Help You Combat Teacher Burnout and Rediscover Your Passion for TeachingWritten for new and veteran teachers alike, this book is the perfect read at the beginning of the school year, offering Bible-based strategies teachers can use to battle discouragement, stress, and burnout.

 

As a fellow member and volunteer for the Catholic Writers Guild, I’ve known Amy for several years. She’s a middle-school teacher and author of two novels for middle- and high-school students, a Dame of Malta, an avid runner, and (in her free time?) recently completed an Ed.D. This summer, Amy organized the Catholic Writers Guild conference, a hybrid event with in-person and online speakers and attendees. Amy also hosts a YouTube channel featuring the “Cath-Lit Live!” video series, in which she interviews Catholic authors about their newly released books. Amy is energetic (as you can see from this list of accomplishments) and always ready to share what she’s learned with others. You can learn more about her work at AJCattapan.com

 

 

It was my pleasure to interview Amy about her newest book.

Is Sweet Jesus, Is It June Yet? for Catholic school teachers only?

The initial audience for the book was Catholic school teachers, but I’ve found that DREs and catechists are also relating to it, as well as other Christians who work in education. Basically, anyone who reads the Bible and does some kind of teaching can appreciate the connections between the Gospel stories and the work that they do.

 

How can homeschooling moms (or dads) benefit from this book?

Homeschooling parents can benefit in much the same ways that classroom teachers and catechists do. It can help them to focus on why they decided to homeschool in the first place, as well as find guidance for how Jesus can be a role model for them as educators as well.

 

What’s your advice for teachers who feel that admitting feelings of teacher burnout means that they’re not good teachers?

Even people who love their jobs and are very successful often go through periods of burnout. This is why we need to take breaks from our work and then come back refreshed. Feeling burned out is a normal reaction to caring about the job you do. If we are feeling burned out, it’s an indication that we’ve been pouring out heart and soul into the job. While it’s great that so many teachers care so much about doing a great job, we also need to remember that it’s necessary to step back and “fill our own cups” whenever we feeling like we are running on empty. Don’t forget how many times Jesus had to go away to a quiet place! If He needed rest and quiet, then so do we!

 

In one of my favorite chapters, “Jesus Knew When (and How Far) to Bend the Rules,” you mention the destructive power of negative attitudes. When I was teaching, I stopped eating lunch in the teachers’ lounge because of the negative attitudes among some other teachers. While I cut myself off from the cynicism, I also missed opportunities for sharing ideas and getting help. Is there a better way to handle that kind of situation?

Excellent question! I know many teachers who avoid the lounge; sometimes it is necessary to do that. However, that shouldn’t mean we isolate ourselves entirely. Try to find the coworkers with whom you can have constructive conversations. Seek out times that you are free, and make a point of connecting with that person(s) regularly — perhaps during a mutual planning period or even a few minutes before or after school. Also find ways to connect with teachers outside of your own school. For example, go to teacher conferences, talk to friends who are teachers at other schools, and participate in informal professional development opportunities, like the #CatholicEdChat discussions that happen on Twitter the first and third Saturdays of each month.

 

It’s providential that your book has been released just as teachers are beginning a second full school year with the challenges of pandemic restrictions. Which chapter would you recommend to teachers who are feeling anxious about this?

I would recommend chapters 8 and 10. Chapter 8 is called “Jesus Took Challenges in Stride.” We’ve had a lot of challenges over the last 18 months. Jesus can teach us how to handle them with grace. Chapter 10 is called “Jesus Knew When to Stop and Just Let It Be.” There is so much we can’t control during a pandemic. Jesus can show us how to let go of unrealistic expectations and focus on what we can do.

This book makes a great teacher gift!

Sweet Jesus, Is It June Yet? is available from the publisher, Ave Maria Press, on Amazon, and wherever you purchase Catholic books. If you’re interested in ordering multiple books for all your kids’ teachers, contact Amy about a discount code for bulk orders! (Don’t wait until Christmas to share this book with the teachers you know. They need it now.)


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Author photo courtesy of Amy J. Cattapan
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book by the publisher, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

bookshelf with Catholic fiction titles

On My Bookshelf: Adoration for Beginners (and everyone else)

Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Eucharistic Adoration is much more than a guidebook about a particular type of devotion. This new book by Merridith Frediani, published by Our Sunday Visitor, begins with an explanation about Adoration that is definitely not for beginners only. Not every parish or Adoration Chapel offers advice or instruction on customary prayer practices associated with this devotion, so you’ll find that this book fills in those gaps in a helpful way.

Draw Close to Jesus cover

Merridith explains in the Introduction to this book why it’s addressed specifically to women:

In adoration we approach God as women and pause in these tasks to acknowledge that God calls us in the deep core of our hearts. He wants us to come to him and rest. We do not need to bring anything. He knows the world is pulling at us and can be overwhelming. He knows we make mistakes, and he keeps inviting. When we come to him, we open ourselves to the one who loves us most deeply. (12)

I like to bring a journal to Adoration with me, and the short reflections in the middle of this book are perfect jumping-off places for spiritual journaling. Each reflection is brief (about two pages in length) and most are based on Scripture. At the end of the reflection, there is a “to do” item — not one that’s going to stress you out by adding more to an already overflowing list, but a spiritual action — and an invitation “to go deeper,” which notes a Scripture passage and offers a prayer prompt for contemplation and journaling. You don’t have to go through these start to finish; the book is made for readers to pick and choose the theme for their prayer.

At the end of Draw Close to Jesus, you’ll find what Merridith calls “a Catholic toolbox to rescue you when prayer just won’t seem to come” (128). There are instructions on praying the Rosary (which I find to be a good way to ease into Adoration, as the repetition of the prayers helps clear my mind of the to-do lists that distract me); the Memorare, the Litany of Trust and Litany of Humility, novenas, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Of course, any of these prayers can be prayed at any time (not just during Adoration) but it’s handy to have them right there if you’d like to make them part of your prayer routine.

monstrance in Adoration chapel

After keeping a weekly holy hour for more than five years, I can say that no two adorers approach this devotion the same way. In fact, I don’t approach all my holy hours the same way. But there’s useful material in Draw Close to Jesus, whether you begin your Adoration time with a Rosary or end it by reading the Bible. This book has earned its place beside my journal, pen, and holy cards in my Adoration tote bag.

Draw Close to Jesus is available for preorder now and releases Friday, August 13.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Photo copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.

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.

books on a bookshelf

On My Bookshelf: Saints, Parenting, and Family Finance

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Today, I’m taking a look at 6 new books on the topics of saints, parenting, and family finance.

Pray Along with Married Saints

If you and your spouse are looking for a different way to pray together, try this new devotional by Kent and Kaitlin Lasnoski. 30 Days with Married Saints: a Catholic Couples’ Devotional includes a month’s worth of reflections inspired by the Holy Family and eleven saintly couples or individuals who evangelized by example.

The married saints passionately loved their spouses, delighted in their children, opened their homes to strangers, gave generously to others, and lived an intense piety. They also managed to find joy amid their day’s equivalents of dirty diapers, dishes, laundry, cubicles, traffic, and office meetings. They were the salt and light of the world and the presence of the risen Christ to those who met them (see Mt 5:13-16). Now from heaven these married saints continually intercede for the faithful’s intentions, including for your marriage. Through their example and prayers, may the married saints lead us to Christ! (4-5)

Each daily section (5 to 10 pages) includes an opening prayer, a reflection inspired by a saint or saintly couple, suggestions for spiritual practice, and a closing prayer. This book would make a wonderful gift for an engaged couple, newlyweds, or to celebrate a wedding anniversary. Available from Pauline Books & Media.

 

What Is Good Catholic Parenting, Anyway?

Mark and Melanie Hart explain in Our Not-Quite-Holy Family: A Practical Guide for Catholic Parents that there’s no one way to be a good parent. This is an honest and often clever look at what family life is really like, written by a couple with children in college, high school, middle school, and elementary school. In this book’s seven chapters, the authors discuss proactive parenting, dealing with extended family, marital intimacy, creating a domestic church, prayer, screen time, and raising future saints. Each chapter includes a prayer and a number of practical steps you and your spouse can take to meet your ultimate parenting goal: leading each other, and your children, to heaven.

Remember the goal of your parenting is to raise well-formed young souls. If you see your spouse beginning to lose their temper in a situation, look at them and simply say, “Remember the goal.” God has entrusted these souls to you for a reason. You are capable of more than you think you are with the help of his grace (13).

You’ll also find an appendix packed with prayers and devotions for couples and families, and short testimonials from 5 Catholic families. Available from Ave Maria Press.

 

A Deep Dive into Catholic Parenting

Conor Gallagher’s Parenting for Eternity: A Guide to Raising Children in Holy Mother Church takes a look at how parents can direct their efforts toward saving their children’s souls. This book is not a light read, and it seems to be geared to parents of younger children; the writing style is decidedly old-fashioned (if I hadn’t seen the 2021 copyright date, I’d have pegged the book to have been written at least 65 years earlier). If you are a fan of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen’s work, this parenting book is for you.

As a parent, you must examine your conscience: do you give greater attention to your child’s physical or spiritual well-being? Have you gone to great lengths to construct your entire life around your child’s health, education, social life, and sports so they can be well-rounded, productive, and successful citizens? A resounding yes comes to mind. But have you given even 10 percent of such effort to their spiritual formation? Have you considered Heaven and hell 10 percent as much as you consider wordly success for your growing child? (3-4)

Chapters discuss the Four Last Things, piety, humility, the Church, Our Lady and the saints, awareness of the angelic and demonic, and the School of Calvary. You’ll also find four appendices that include Christ’s warnings about hell, prayers and novena for the holy souls, the Angelus, and a prayer for your child’s vocation. Available from TAN Books.

 

Beatitudes-Based Healing for Parents

In All Things New: Breaking the Cycle and Raising a Joyful Family, Erin McCole Cupp reaches out to parents who don’t feel equipped for the task because they didn’t have good parenting models as they grew up. If your childhood was marked by dysfunction, difficulty, and a lack of nurturing, you’re not doomed to repeat that scenario with your own family — you need a new parenting toolkit than the one you were provided.

We know what not to do. But God is a good father, and he knows that we need more than directions on the negative. He knows we need directions on what to do instead. That is why, in preparing to give us the new covenant of his blood on the cross, Jesus first climbed a mountain, sat his people down, and gave them directions on how to live within the boundaries of freedom. In other words, in the Sermon on the Mount, he gave us the Beatitudes. He gave us a new script. (76)

This book is not designed only for parents just starting out. Of course, parents of newborns or expectant parents will benefit from the information and encouragement in All Things New, but parents of children of any age (even young adults) can learn strategies for forgiving, trusting (where appropriate), making emotional connections, practicing gratitude, and more parenting skills of the kind those regular parenting books don’t teach you — because they assume you learned them during your formative years.

 

The Parents Behind the Holy Cards

Are you raising a future saint? Get your parenting inspiration from Patrick O’Hearn’s new collective biography, Parents of the Saints: The Hidden Heroes Behind Our Favorite Saints. O’Hearn tells the stories of more than 100 parents whose children became saints. The book is organized by seven hallmarks of holiness: sacramental life (including Our Lady), surrender, sacrificial love, suffering, simplicity, solitude, and sacredness of life.

Behind every holy card, image, and statue of the saints lies the story of a person who came from a father and mother. It is within this school of love, this domestic church, where most saints learned to pray, love, and receive the mustard seed of faith, which, in time, developed into heroic virtue (3).

Some narratives are longer than others; Louis and Zélie Martin’s story spans 15 pages, while Karol and Emilia Wojtila’s is a single page long. The book can be read straight through, or you can pick and choose as you go. No matter what order you read about these saints, you’ll be inspired and edified by their lives and example. Available from TAN Books.

 

Setting Financial Goals, Catholic Style

A Catholic Guide to Spending Less and Living More: Advice from a Debt-Free Family of 16 by Sam and Rob Fatzinger took me back to the early days of my marriage, when we lived on one income and I scoured The Tightwad Gazette (borrowed from the library, of course!) for money-saving tips as my financial contribution to the family. Not only does this book contain plenty of tips that families (or singles) can use regardless of their family situation, it also simplifies some basic financial concepts and offers spiritual insight about how we use our money.

Do you want God to give you the strength to avoid going further into debt? How about skipping a meal? Or giving up dessert for a week? Maybe you have a thing for sugary coffees; could you go a few days drinking black coffee? Or, dare I say, no coffee at all? Offer a prayer with each short fast for an increase in the virtues that will help you avoid overspending (65).

Sam and Rob Fatzinger share their own stories of figuring out the best ways to save money and stay out of debt while living on one income. Recommended especially for newly married couples and singles starting out on their own. Available from Ave Maria Press.


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!

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Journal Your Way Through Big Changes

In Menopause Moments: a journal for nourishing your mind, body and spirit in midlife, Melanie Rigney explores menopause with compassion. Melanie encourages women not to view the physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges of menopause as setbacks, inviting readers instead to laugh a little, to find ways to be grateful amid physical and emotional turbulence, and to practice self-care.

This journal is packed with gentle, practical tips for embracing and contemplating God’s plan in this season of life. Use it as you like: a section a day, a section a week, go through it here and there as you need it — the design is open-ended enough for you to switch it up as you like.

From the Preface:

This journal’s purpose is to show you you’re never alone, and maybe to make you laugh a little. There’s a short reflection for each entry, along with a verse to contemplate, an action item, and a spark for reflecting or praying. You can start with day one, or thumb through to find the page you need that particular day. Either way, I hope you feel refreshed and more confident in your future, yourself, and your faith. (viii)

When I was slammed into instant menopause due to major surgery at age 46, keeping a sense of humor is one of the things that got me through. In some ways I was lucky, as I knew what was coming, though the severity and frequency of symptoms varied day by day. I remember begging my husband to add a room with a walk-in freezer to the back of my house so I could stand in there during hot flashes. (The poor guy. He had no idea what was coming. Melanie might need to start working on a companion journal for husbands with menopausal wives.)

My vision of self-care often involves M&Ms and never involves manicures. But one of my favorite parts of Menopause Moments is the Action section in each chapter. Some actions are concrete things you can do to help yourself or others: change up (or begin) an exercise routine, helping an elder relative or friend find ways to give of themselves, memorizing a favorite Scripture passage, and, yes, hosting a manicure night with friends. Journaling along with Menopause Moments is one of the best self-care practices a woman can begin during this life-changing experience.

Learn more about Melanie Rigney and her writing and speaking at MelanieRigney.com.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Featured image: Visme
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free copy of this book for review and endorsement purposes, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.