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

stock the shelves: the easy and free way to share Catholic and Orthodox fiction with our local communities

Stock the Shelves: How You Can Help Your Favorite Authors Reach Readers

I’m proud to support Stock the Shelves, a new joint effort to promote the inclusion of Catholic fiction in public libraries.

Did you know you can suggest titles for your public library’s permanent collection? The Catholic Mom community and the Catholic Writers Guild, along with several Catholic fiction organizations and dozens of authors, want to flood our local libraries with fiction by Catholic and Orthodox Christian writers, bringing our unique sacramental perspective to a wider audience.

How can you help?

Simple! If you are a fan of Catholic and Orthodox fiction, share your favorite titles with others by filling out a request form at the library or via your library’s website. It costs nothing except a few minutes of your time.
My local library automatically puts my name at the top of the hold list when they acquire a book I’ve requested. Even if I already own the book, I make sure to borrow it (I return it quickly). This way, the library’s circulation records show activity on that book.
To learn more, visit the Stock the Shelves campaign homepage and check out a wide variety of great contemporary Catholic and Orthodox authors.
Thank you for your support of this campaign—it’s an encouragement to all Catholic and Orthodox writers.
stock-the-shelves-banner-CP

 


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images copyright 2022 Rhonda Ortiz, all rights reserved, used with permission

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

An Open Book: April 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

The Roommate Situation (Only in Atlanta, Book 1) by Katie Bailey. An enjoyable clean romance, but I liked the second in the series more. This one featured a young woman who just broke up with her cheating boyfriend, showed up unannounced at her older brother’s house, and found that only his roommate would be there for a few weeks. They try to hide their developing relationship from everyone, to no avail and to hilarious effect. (4 stars)

 

Neighbor WarThe Neighbor War: A Romantic Comedy (Only in Atlanta Book 2) by Katie Bailey. A fun, light read about neighbors who have longtime crushes on each other but don’t know the other one likes them—and one of them thinks she hates the other, based on an erroneous first impression. Witty banter (so much witty banter!), fun characters. (5 stars)

 

Bluebird by Genevieve Graham. Historical fiction set in Canada during/just after World War I. In this second-chance love story, a military nurse falls for a patient who, along with his brother, had been seriously injured doing dangerous work. After the war, the former soldier and his family make their living as bootleggers and smugglers across the Canada-US border, and the nurse unwittingly begins dating the brothers’ biggest competition, a gangster who is out to ruin his enemies. I’ll definitely look for more by this author. (5 stars; Netgalley review.)

 

YA/Children’s

Finding Junie KimFinding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh. Dual timeline fiction, set during Korean War and present-day, with both story lines from the view of adolescents. The story itself is a lovely family saga, even as it recounts the brutalities of war. The book takes on racism and bigotry but openly supports the BLM movement, and there was definitely an undercurrent of anti-white-privilege going on, which is its own form of racism. Because of this and because of some disturbing content (war violence), I would recommend a critical read before giving it to a child because the book definitely does endorse a party line. (4 stars)

Nonfiction

No Such Thing as OrdinaryNo Such Thing as Ordinary by Rachel Balducci. Rachel’s upbringing in the faith is different from most, because she was raised in an intentional Christian community, where she still lives. Don’t let her unique experience stop you from reading this encouraging look at being your best for God, structured around the story of the woman at the well. (4 stars; Netgalley review. Releases May 6.)
Synopsis: Are you looking for freedom and fulfillment in the life you are already living, or do you feel trapped because your everyday reality doesn’t match your dreams? No Such Thing as Ordinary will help you discover the passion and adventure in your life while empowering you to see how God uses daily, here-and-now moments to draw you to him in an extraordinary way. Drawing from Jesus’s conversation with the woman at the well in the Gospel of John, Rachel Balducci—Catholic writer and cohost of CatholicTV’s The Gist—shares how a deep unrest in her life launched her on a journey to discover the secret that true joy is found in a deeper relationship with Jesus.

Dust Bowl Girls coverThe Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of the Team that Barnstormed Its Way to Basketball Glory by Lydia Reeder. The true story of a Depression-era women’s basketball team in Oklahoma. A fascinating premise: women recuited to attend a junior college in Oklahoma face challenges ranging from poverty to sexism as they work to qualify for a championship tournament against some of the region’s best female basketball players. The book got bogged down in some unnecessary detail that didn’t keep the story moving and maybe could have been included as a supplement rather than incorporated into the story line. (4 stars.)

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

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

Visit this month’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!

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

An Open Book: March 2022

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

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

Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

 

YA/Children’s

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

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

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

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

Nonfiction

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

 

The Fine Print

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

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

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

Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Our Lady of Lourdes

The Miracle You Want vs. the Miracle You Need

Christy and Todd WIlkens took their son Oscar to Lourdes with the Order of Malta on a pilgrimage, hoping for healing.

The couple was desperate for a miracle. Their little boy was suffering from a seizure disorder that had begun during his infancy. After a year of chasing treatment after treatment, Christy could see that nothing was helping Oscar—at least, nothing that doctors or hospitals could offer him.

In Awakening at Lourdes: How an Unanswered Prayer Healed Our Family and Restored Our Faith, Christy Wilkens describes the details of her last-ditch spiritual effort to heal what modern medicine could not. She and her husband were exhausted, and the constant caregiving, monitoring, and medical visits for Oscar did not leave much left over for their five older children—or their marriage.

As they began their journey at the airport, Christy and Todd learned immediately about the loving care Oscar—and she and her husband—would receive from the team of Order of Malta volunteers, known as a “pod,” who were assigned to her family, and only to her family. Even as they learned what Oscar needed, these volunteers provided what Christy and Todd needed as well, including time to process the 24/7 caregiving their little boy had required for the past year.

A pilgrimage to Lourdes is much, much more than simply a trip to a shrine that boasts a spring of healing water, as the Wilkens family learned. It is a spiritual experience, bringing healing and wholeness in unexpected ways.

Awakening at Lourdes is a timely read during National Marriage Week, and as we prepare to celebrate the February 11 feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image: Stencil

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open book and coffee mug near a lake

New Spiritual Reads for Lent 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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

On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

An Open Book: February 2022

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

I think I’ve finally flunked out of Goodreads, but I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of books I’ve read in 2022 in hopes that I won’t have to scroll through my Kindle at the end of every month to compile this list. In January I read 13 books. I’m only going to be sharing the ones that merit 4 or 5 stars (it’s a shame that only 6 of the 13 I read this month will make it onto this list). And you might get the Amazon synopsis, not mine.

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

Fiction

If I Were You by Lynn Austin. 4 stars. A stolen-identity story beginning in World War II-era England during the Blitz. There’s a sequel, but it wasn’t as good. Synopsis: 1950. In the wake of the war, Audrey Clarkson leaves her manor house in England for a fresh start in America with her young son. As a widowed war bride, Audrey needs the support of her American in-laws, whom she has never met. But she arrives to find that her longtime friend Eve Dawson has been impersonating her for the past four years. Unraveling this deception will force Audrey and Eve’s secrets—and the complicated history of their friendship—to the surface.
1940. Eve and Audrey have been as different as two friends can be since the day they met at Wellingford Hall, where Eve’s mother served as a lady’s maid for Audrey’s mother. As young women, those differences become a polarizing force . . . until a greater threat—Nazi invasion—reunites them. With London facing relentless bombardment, Audrey and Eve join the fight as ambulance drivers, battling constant danger together. An American stationed in England brings dreams of a brighter future for Audrey, and the collapse of the class system gives Eve hope for a future with Audrey’s brother. But in the wake of devastating loss, both women must make life-altering decisions that will set in motion a web of lies and push them both to the breaking point long after the last bomb has fallen.

Neruda on the Park by Cleyvis Natera. 5 stars. I felt like I was right there watching this story happen. What a powerful debut novel! Synopsis: The Guerreros have lived in Nothar Park, a predominantly Dominican part of New York City, for twenty years. When demolition begins on a neighboring tenement, Eusebia, an elder of the community, takes matters into her own hands by devising an increasingly dangerous series of schemes to stop construction of the luxury condos. Meanwhile, Eusebia’s daughter, Luz, a rising associate at a top Manhattan law firm who strives to live the bougie lifestyle her parents worked hard to give her, becomes distracted by a sweltering romance with the handsome white developer at the company her mother so vehemently opposes. As Luz’s father, Vladimir, secretly designs their retirement home in the Dominican Republic, mother and daughter collide, ramping up tensions in Nothar Park, racing toward a near-fatal climax. (Netgalley)

The City Mother by Maya Sinha. 5 stars. Talk about a book hangover … this story, new from Chrism Press, stuck with me for a long time. This book takes on the idea of a city as a place to which young people gravitate because of its activity and opportunities, but which reveals its evil to a young mother seeking her own identity as she nurtures her little children. The lack of connection and community leaves Cara vulnerable to fall into postpartum depression and psychosis—but she doesn’t miss the reality right in front of her, a reality that no one else sees. Synopsis: Fresh out of college, small-town crime reporter Cara Nielsen sees disturbing things that suggest, for the first time in her life, that evil is real. But as the daughter of two secular academics, she pushes that notion aside. When her smart, ambitious boyfriend asks her to marry him and move to a faraway city, it’s a dream come true.
Four years later, confined to a city apartment with a toddler, Cara fears she is losing her mind. Sleeplessness, isolation, and postpartum hormones have altered her view of reality. Something is wrong in the lost, lonely world into which she’s brought a child. Visions hint at mysteries she can’t explain, and evil seems not only real—it’s creeping ever closer.
As her marriage falters and friends disappear, Cara seeks guidance from books, films, therapy, even the saints, when she’s not scrubbing the diaper pail. Meanwhile, someone is crying out for help that only she can give. Cara must confront big questions about reality and illusion, health and illness, good and evil—and just how far she is willing to go to protect those she loves.

 

YA/Children’s

A Kind of Paradise by Amy Rebecca Tan. 5 stars. First of all, it’s set in a library so it’s already off to a good start in my opinion! It hits some hot-button topics like bullying and PTSD, and is an excellent friendship story. I’d give this to readers 12 and up, in a heartbeat. Synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Jamie Bunn made a mistake at the end of the school year. A big one. And every kid in her middle school knows all about it. Now she has to spend her summer vacation volunteering at the local library—as punishment. What a waste of a summer!
Or so she thinks.
An unforgettable story about the power of community, the power of the library, and the power of forgiveness.

The Edge of In Between by Lorelei Savaryn. 5 stars. A beautifully told allegory on grief and the afterlife for middle-grade readers. Young readers need tools for processing difficult realities, and story can help provide them. Lorelei Savaryn’s tale explores the impact of grief on a preteen who feels helpless to do anything but follow the lead of the only adults around to care for her after the sudden death of her parents. The deeply intuitive Lottie recognizes that something is wrong when she’s asked to accept a life in In Between, the stage of the afterlife that precedes Ever After (heaven)—because as a living being, she does not belong there. But all she wants is to be reunited with her deceased parents. She discovers others in the same position, and ultimately is called upon to stand against what she knows is wrong and make a life-giving choice, even when that means she will have to defer her own desires.
While the author notes that the book is a nod to The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, I also saw some elements that reminded me of Oscar Wilde’s “The Selfish Giant.” Coming April 19. (Netgalley)

Nonfiction

The Lazy Genius Kitchen: Have What You Need, Use What You Have, and Enjoy It Like Never Before by Kendra Adachi. 5 stars. This book will be particularly useful to novice cooks or newly independent young adults, but anyone can benefit from the common-sense information in this book. The tone is casual and friendly, never condescending. And readers can take as deep a dive as they like into meal planning, setting up cooking and food storage zones, and the other topics covered in this book. The book’s design complements the information well, with colorful touches throughout, places to take notes as you go, cute graphics, and plenty of useful cross-referencing. It’s a home cook’s guide to working smarter, not harder. Highly recommended! Coming March 22. (Advance copy received from publisher)

On the TBR Pile

I’m either in the middle of these books or looking to get started on them ASAP.

Reclaiming Vatican II: What it (really) said, what it means, and how it calls us to renew the Church by Fr. Blake Britton. There’s so much online debate about the Council, and I want to know what it really is there to teach me. (Advance copy received from publisher)

Beginning Well: 7 Spiritual Practices for the First Year of Almost Anything by Joel Stepanek. I love any book that talks about doing a thing for a year, but this one is a new twist on it: this is the book that helps you navigate the transition to doing a new thing, getting through that first year. (Advance copy received from publisher)

Ex Libris: From the Writings of Edith Stein, compiled by Dianne M. Traflet. I haven’t read anything by St. Edith Stein, and this little book contains 29 brief readings to introduce this writer and philosopher to people like me! If I start this today and read one selection each day, I’ll finish it by Lent. (Advance copy received from publisher)

The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander. Another classic spiritual writer whose work I haven’t read. This book contains meditations on the humanity of Mary, Mother of God. I think it will be a good Lenten read for me. (Advance copy received from publisher, and I bought it for Kindle as well, for a spiritual read on the go!)


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

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

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

Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

The Word on Fire Bible: Acts, Letters, and Revelation

Word on Fire Ministries has completed the New Testament of The Word on Fire Bible with the publication of Acts, Letters, and RevelationLike the first volume, The Word on Fire Bible: The Gospels, this is a richly detailed Bible that contains much more than the portion of the Bible its title indicates. How much more? The book, at 841 pages, is measurably thicker than the first volume, with twice as much commentary to accompany the Scripture it includes.

 

Word on Fire Bible

 

You can use The Word on Fire Bible for reading, study, and prayer. It’s packed with commentary by saints and scholars; for example, 1 Corinthians features commentary from St. John Henry Newman, St. John Chrysostom, René Girard, Origen, Thomas Merton, G.K. Chesterton, St. Maximus the Confessor, Tertullian, St. Augustine, St. Irenaeus, St. Ambrose, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Flannery O’Connor, Wilfred Rowland Childe, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Fulton Sheen, Dante, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Hans Urs von Balthasar. Plus, essays by Bishop Robert Barron appear throughout that epistle. All of that, in addition to the sacred art and lettered embellishments that appear throughout, contribute to the book’s large size but make it an extremely useful edition of these New Testament books.

In an introductory essay, Bishop Robert Barron notes:

The Church has realized from the beginning that we need assistance if we are to read the Scriptures with profit. We require precisely the interpretive lens provided by the great scholars, saints, mystics, popes, and prophets who have gone before us—those who have, in the course of time, been recognized as masters of the sacred writings. (17)

 

 

At the beginning of this volume, icons depicting each of the books included are introduced. These icons relate to the content of the books, and are another example of the attention to every single detail in the publication of this Bible: details that make this a Bible that will appeal to readers who are new to the faith, questioning the faith, or longtime faithful.

Unlike many other Bibles available today, the Word of God is presented in single-column format. The font is large and easy to read. A different font is used for the commentaries and essays, which are also presented on light-colored backgrounds to set them apart from Scripture. Essays and commentaries take the place of the footnotes you often find in other Bibles. The Word on Fire Bible uses the New Revised Standard Version–Catholic Edition (NRSV-CE).

 

 

 

This Bible is available in three formats: leatherbound, hardcover, and paperback. The leatherbound version which I received feels sturdy but not stiff, immediately comfortable in my hands. It’s heavy, but I expect that from a Bible anyway, and has a very inviting feel—I just wanted to keep on reading it. That’s probably the best endorsement an edition of the Bible can get. For anyone interested in exploring the Bible, this is a beautiful, gift-quality edition.

The Word on Fire Bible: Acts, Letters, and Revelation is available beginning January 17, 2022. Visit WordOnFire.org/Bible2 and sign up to be notified when ordering opens.

Take a tour of this new Bible:

 

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Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photos copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.