On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Shadow in the Dark”

You’ll rarely hear me say that a book would make a terrific movie, but I’d say that about Shadow in the Dark, Antony Barone Kolenc’s novel for young readers. Tweens and teens who enjoy a medieval setting, plenty of action, and a good scare won’t be able to put this book down.

Synopsis: In twelfth century England, an attack by bandits in the middle of the night leaves a young boy with no memory of who he is or where he is from. Nursed back to health by the devoted monks in a Benedictine abbey, he takes the name Alexander, or Xan for short. Aided by the kindly Brother Andrew, and his best friend, Lucy, Xan commits himself to finding out who he really is. Is his family still alive? Why has God allowed so much suffering into his life? And who — or what — is the shadowy figure creeping around the abbey in the dead of night? 

The virtue of integrity is central to the story, as Xan and his friends discover which of the people around them are who they say they are and who can be trusted. This mystery story provides a fascinating glimpse inside the feudal world and the monastic life during the Middle Ages.

shadow in the dark

Shadow in the Dark is the first book in The Harwood Mysteries series by Antony Barone Kolenc and is published by Loyola Press. The author has completely revised and updated this novel from an earlier release.

Enjoy an excerpt from Shadow in the Dark:

Xan cracked open the door. Brother Oscar was nowhere in sight, but snores spilled out from his nearby cell. He slid past the monk’s door and down the steps.

Outside, the mist was getting thicker. His breath rose like wispy fog in the faint moonlight. Even with his shoes on, his feet in the wet grass felt as if they’d been frozen in a block of ice.
 
This couldn’t possibly turn out well. If the Shadow were one of the monks, he might get in trouble, perhaps even a paddling. If the Shadow were an intruder, he might get attacked. And if it were the angel of death — still a possibility — he might lose his life. After all, two times the Shadow had been seen, and both times someone had died.
 
All right, God, this may have been a bad idea. Can You help me out of this?
 
His heart was beating almost loud enough for him to hear it. Yet, in the library beneath that painting, Brother Andrew had told him not to fear death.
 
“Get your senses about you,” he said aloud, forcing himself to move through the mist.
 
He took cover at the corner of the hedge — the last place he’d seen the Shadow. Even though the wind was cutting like icicles, sweat clung to the inside of his tunic.
 
Just then, a branch cracked. A figure moved from the other end of the hedge, but it was not creeping near the trail to Lord Godfrey’s estate. It was heading up the hill toward the abbey!
 
This was the closest he’d ever been to the shadowy figure but, in all this mist, he could barely make out more detail than from the window.
 
It was dressed in a robe of dark, woolen material, the same as the monks wore. Its cowl hung so low over its head that it was impossible to tell from this distance if there was even a face beneath the hood.
 
The angel of death in his nightmare had reached with bony, skeletal hands. This figure didn’t seem to have any hands at all, unless they were tucked inside its robe.
 
Yet an object was at its side, so it must have had a hand of some sort to grasp with. Its body was blocking the object, but it appeared to be long and narrow, round and thin — a staff or reed of some kind, like the one he had seen on Brother Leo’s bed that day he’d first met the monk.
 
Xan’s paralyzed legs wouldn’t move to follow it. John was right: he must be a dotie fool to do this. What if this were that bandit, Rummy? The young boys might find his dead body crumpled in a heap on the meadow in the morning. Then they’d have nightmares for all their days.
 
Except if he went back without discovering the truth, they’d have nightmares anyway.
 
The hooded figure reached the top of the grassy hill—limping slightly, as though in pain — and headed into the granges.
 
There was no use debating anymore. Xan couldn’t go back to the dorm now without completing his mission. A crowd of young boys probably were pressed around the window slits, watching his every move. They were counting on him.
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About the author: Antony Barone Kolenc (“Tony”) retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps after 21 years of military service. He is a law professor who teaches courses on constitutional and military law and has been published in numerous journals and magazines, and he speaks at legal, writing, and homeschooling events. Tony and his family live in Jacksonville, and are the proud parents of five children and three grandchildren. His book, Shadow in the Dark, Book One in The Harwood Mysteries, is available in paperback, as an ebook, and on audible from Loyola Press.

Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Theresa Linden Talks About her New Novel, “Fire Starters”

The teenage characters in Theresa Linden’s West Brothers series grapple with tough issues as they grow in faith. Fire Starters centers on the sacrament of Confirmation, the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, and whether a person must feel ready before they can receive grace. This novel is a great read for teens in youth groups or sacrament prep.

FS front cover

This is the final book in the series, which includes six books for teens and one spinoff novel for adult readers. I’m such a fan of the characters in this series that I’m really sad to see it go, and I admit to hounding Theresa a bit, trying to convince her to tell more West Brothers stories.

I guess that didn’t make her too mad, because she graciously answered my questions about Fire Starters, the West Brothers, and her other projects (she’s a busy writer!).

What made you choose a Confirmation-themed book as the one to end the series?

Several things … first, I have a special love for the Holy Spirit, and this is His sacrament. Through it, we receive a deepening of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit! But both the Holy Spirit and Confirmation are often misunderstood. Maybe it’s just that we can more easily relate to the other persons of the Blessed Trinity because of family. And the signs of the other sacraments make their grace clear. I love bringing Catholic truth to life through a story, so I hope this story will help readers understand both the Holy Spirit and Confirmation at a deeper level.

Second, since the current tradition in most Catholic rites is to receive Confirmation in the teen years, I thought it would be great to focus on this sacrament in this teen fiction series. I would love for my teen readers to understand the amazing grace we receive—just as the Apostles did on Pentecost, how we become soldiers of Christ in a war between the people of God and the powers of hell, how we receive supernatural help to defend our faith and advance the Kingdom of God.

Third, as I was writing Standing Strong, the fourth book in the series, I realized that the history I’ve created over the years for the West brothers made it likely that they missed this sacrament. The boys lost their mother at a young age and their father fell away from the faith as a result. They continued to attend Mass now and then with the Digbys, their live-in housekeeper and groundskeeper, but they did not continue their faith formation. So they missed Confirmation!

I also think it works well for a final story for this teen fiction series because Confirmation equips a person to live their faith as an adult. It is the foundation for each person’s vocation. So now the West Brothers are prepared for the world and their individual vocations, even if they don’t figure them out right away.

What has surprised you most about the West Brothers series?

While I know the characters inside and out and I enjoy writing the West Brothers stories, I found myself struggling to write this last book, Fire Starters. I guess I had a bad case of writer’s block. I even started to think that I would not complete the story, that I was done with writing.

Then a friend from church had to go out of town and asked me to take over her Adoration hour for two weeks. So I did. And while I was kneeling in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, the story themes began to come to me. I went home and started writing. My writer’s block was gone! I was able to write every single day until the story was completed, and it was completed in record time.

I feel bad for this year’s Confirmation candidates because of how different things are this year. Many won’t be Confirmed by a bishop, and there will likely be a limit to the number of people that can witness their Confirmations. So I’ve dedicated Fire Starters to them, and I’m happy that the book will be released on Pentecost.

Do you have a favorite among the main characters in the series? 

When I’m writing a story, I get so deep into the point-of-view character’s head. I understand why they make their choices, what they struggle with, and what their hopes and dreams are. So they are all my favorites!

Jarret’s perspective has always been fun to write. He starts the series, in Roland West, Loner, so completely selfish and egotistical. In the second book, Life-Changing Love, he’s even worse. His poor choices hurt others, but they also hurt himself. By the end of this book, through his younger brother’s persistence, he begins to think about the consequences of his actions. He takes a big step to change a big mistake, but he’s still not a transformed character.

In the third book, Battle for His Soul, when his twin stops following his lead and his girlfriend breaks up with him, he falls into a pit of despair. This is his guardian angel’s story, and I really enjoyed showing how much his guardian angels loves him and even how his younger brother, Roland, loves him, despite his mistakes. Jarret is a bit more vulnerable in this story, and his conversion at the end is the result of a hard-fought battle that many took part in.

In Standing Strong, he faces something we all do: how do you remain faithful to God when faced with the same temptations? He’s really trying by the final book in the series, Fire Starters, but he’s a bit hard on himself. It’s been fun to show this character’s struggles and growth. Jarret brings out the best and worst in the other characters too.

One of your sons is the inspiration for a character in this book. What’s the story behind his appearance in the novel?

My youngest son, Cisco, is sixteen. He loves reading. He never returns from the library without a massive stack of books. And he’s even written a few stories of his own, Walrus vs. Aliens being his favorite. While I was brainstorming ideas for Fire Starters, he asked if he could be a character in the story. He enjoys reading and writing, why not be a character in a story too? I loved the idea!

I used Cisco’s name, appearance, and skills for this minor character that becomes friends with Roland West. They meet at a shooting range. The West brothers have always enjoyed archery and marksmanship, and my son loves shooting too. He has participated in two different junior shooters programs for years and has always been quite good at it. He’s almost reached the expert level, which is as high as he can go with those programs!

Since Cisco enjoyed being a character, I might even write him into the dystopian I’m working on. Our dog, Rudy, who passed away some months ago, will also be a character in that story.

What other projects are you working on?

While my first love is teen fiction, I also write adult fiction and children’s books. I am currently working on the artwork for the Armor of God children’s chapter book fantasy-adventure series. Book two came out this May, and I hope to release the other four books in the series as soon as possible.

I have also started another book for teens, this one a historical dystopian. I know that sounds like a strange combination, but I’m really excited about this story. It begins in the year 33 AD and jumps forward to a dystopian future.

west brothers series

Synopsis:

The moment Peter Brandt discovers archenemy Jarret West is a Confirmation candidate, the ceiling of St. Michael’s Church caves in. He soon learns none of the West brothers have received the sacrament: Keefe is looking forward to it, Roland hates drawing attention to himself, and Jarret doesn’t think he’s worthy. Before Peter gets over his shock, whispers of bad news surround him. Parishioners suspect that the parish will soon close and be merged with a neighboring, newly remodeled church.

Peter’s friend Caitlyn is anxious to help, but her life comes crashing down when her mother leaves to aid her aged parents. Now Caitlyn is homeschooling with a neighboring family and caring for her younger siblings, and she can’t see her friends at school. Peter and Caitlyn soon suspect that someone might be behind the potential closing of their church. Not one to give up easily, Caitlyn suggests the Fire Starters help with preparing the West brothers and saving the church.

Read Them All!

While you don’t have to read the entire West Brothers series before reading Fire Starters, I definitely recommend that you do! This series includes a terrific cast of characters.

The West Brothers series (in order)

Roland West, Loner
Life-Changing Love
Battle for His Soul
Standing Strong
Roland West, Outcast
Fire Starters

 

Adult Spinoff from the West Brothers Series

Anyone But Him

anyone but hi

Visit TheresaLinden.com to learn more.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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

#OpenBook: Summer 2018

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

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

Fiction

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

13th chanceThe Thirteenth Chance by Amy Matayo. What a fun read! Olivia, a pretty teacher with a bad case of OCD, gets mixed up in a MLB pitcher’s scheme to get his career back on track. Turns out she’s a bit of a good-luck charm, and while the two of them irritate each other, sparks begin to fly. This book is funny, and the characters have enough quirks to keep it interesting (there’s nothing worse than plain vanilla characters). A clean romance with plenty of banter. Great read for the summer!

unveilingUnveiling, a luxurious read by Suzanne Wolfe from Paraclete Press, is a story that was easy to dive into — and tough to stop reading. My only complaint? It wasn’t long enough! Assigned to Rome to restore a mysterious medieval painting, Rachel leaves her life in New York behind, along with a bitter divorce and a childhood trauma that’s left a mystery to the reader until she is no longer able to bury the secret she’d rather keep hidden. Meanwhile, Rachel and her team work against the looming threat that the art will be removed from the church after restoration is complete. My favorite part involved the question of the identity of the artist behind the beautiful painting Rachel was restoring, and this book made me want to discover more about religious art. (Review copy received from publisher.)

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

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

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

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

YA/Children’s

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

boundBound by Vijaya Bodach. High-school senior Rebecca can’t wait to go away to college — far away, where she can leave behind her father, who’s retreated into his work after her mom’s death last year, and her developmentally-disabled older sister. Rebecca, who was burned over 50% of her body as a preteen, is still dealing with surgeries and treatments for the burn scars and can’t remember the accident that caused the fire. But Rebecca’s dad isn’t dealing with Joy’s needs, leaving Rebecca to make decisions far beyond her years. When Joy becomes pregnant, the family is forced to rework this unhealthy dynamic. This engaging story is a sensitive treatment of prolife themes including abortion, end-of-life issues, and eugenics. Appropriate for teenagers, Bound would make an excellent classroom read.

33430141_10216812107521559_4057467162288193536_nSecrets: Visible and Invisible from CatholicTeenBooks.com. This anthology of Catholic fiction for teens will introduce readers to seven diverse authors. Many of these stories, in a variety of genres but linked by a common theme, offer a peek at characters from full-length novels. Readers already acquainted with these authors will enjoy new perspectives on favorite characters. Kudos to CatholicTeenBooks.com and these seven authors for dreaming up this excellent collection. From dystopia to historical fiction to sweet romance to mystery, there’s something for every reader to like in this collection — and it might even encourage a reader who’s locked in to a certain genre to branch out a bit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Once Upon a Princess

Will a twelve-year-old princess have enough social-media savvy to save her kingdom? That’s the question behind Christine Marciniak’s middle-grade novel, Once Upon a Princess.

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

Princess-Cover

Fritzi’s social-media use is key to the outcome of this story. When she decides to make optimistic videos in an attempt to bring her country together after the coup, she learns that the geo-tagging feature (one she didn’t know about) would put her family in danger. Fritzi’s concern not only for her own interests and those of her family, but the interests of her whole country, is an admirable quality in someone so young, and she shows courage, grit, and a firm ability to lead without bullying.

Christine Marciniak, who lives in New Jersey and is the mom of two college students, adds subtle Catholic touches to her novels. In all of her books, you’ll find mention of her characters attending Mass, and Princess Fritzi’s boarding school in France is named Academie Ste. Marie. It’s nice to see fictional characters practicing their faith as a matter of course, and the author is not too heavy-handed about it.

Once Upon a Princess is appropriate (and recommended) for readers age nine and up.

Learn more about author Christine Marciniak: visit ChristineMarciniak.com or follow her on Facebook or Twitter. And check out the book trailer!

Barb's Book shelf blog title


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

New from Pauline Kids: Books for Easter Baskets

Do you like to make the Easter basket about more than just the chocolate? Four new books from Pauline Kids will make excellent additions to your child’s Easter basket this year.

Jesus our saviorJesus Our Savior: the story of God’s Son for children by Patricia Szczebak is an adaptation of Bible stories about Jesus. Written for independent readers in second grade and up, it would make a great read-aloud for children as young as age four. Most chapters are about three pages long, so this book is perfectly formatted for bedtime reading with your children, a chapter or two each night. This Bible storybook is faithful to Gospel accounts, adding only a bit of historical detail (such as a simple explanation of leprosy) to help young readers understand the stories better.

our blessed motherOur Blessed Mother: the story of Mary for children by Marilyn Evangelina Monge, FSP, is from the same series as Jesus Our Savior. This book is divided into two parts: The Life of Mary and Mary Leads Us to Jesus, which covers the Marian apparitions at Carmel, Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima, the Miraculous Medal, and a quick how-to on praying the Rosary. The book begins with a good explanation about how we honor Mary but do not worship her, and also that we get some of the stories of Mary from Tradition.

life of jesus graphic novelThe Life of Jesus is a graphic novel by Ben Alex, illustrated by José Pérez Montero. This book brings the Gospel stories to life in a different way; more and more kids ages 10 and up are very into the graphic-novel format, so this will appeal to them without boiling down the message. The narrative is very action-oriented but does not leave out the numerous occasions in the Bible where Jesus goes off by himself to pray. At the bottom of each page, you’ll find the Scripture reference for the story depicted there. I’d recommend this for tweens, teens, and Confirmandi.

divine mercy in my pocketDivine Mercy in my pocket by Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP,  is a small booklet, about 3 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches, that helps kids learn to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. In addition to the prayer instruction, the first half of the booklet contains a short biography of Saint Faustina, as well as some information on the meaning of the prayers and how and why we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. The rest of the booklet is titled “How Can I Share Mercy with Others?” and discusses the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy in language children can understand. Paired with a Rosary, it would make an excellent First Communion gift idea.

Tuck one (or more) of these books into your child’s Easter basket this year — right next to the chocolate bunny.

Pauline Books for Easter Baskets


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

On Barb’s Bookshelf: The Other Side of Freedom

Barb's Book shelf blog title

Cynthia T. Toney’s historical novel for teens, The Other Side of Freedom, shows the seamy side of Prohibition-era organized crime from the perspective of a young man whose family becomes its unwitting victims. Finally — good historical fiction that will appeal to male and female readers alike.

other side of freedom

In 1920s Louisiana, Sal struggles with questions of right and wrong as an organized-crime ring forces family members into involvement with bootlegging, with heartbreaking results. Keeping the secret will keep Sal and his parents alive, but is it worth the cost of losing contact with friends and his beloved uncle?

Sal and his best friend Antonina take great risks to uncover the mystery surrounding the crime ring. Aided by Hiram, a young African-American farmhand who faces further obstacles caused by the segregation of the time, Sal and Antonina refuse to be intimidated by the crime ring, even after it becomes evident that the criminals are willing to kill anyone who gets in their way.

One detail in this novel that particularly fascinated me was the presence of Italian immigrants in Louisiana during this time period. I grew up in northern New Jersey, and my own community had a large influx of immigrants from Italy in the early twentieth century. In fact, a local Italian-American family (only two blocks from where I would later live) provided their home as the center of a labor dispute in 1913. I did not know that besides settling in the Northeast (New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey), Italian immigrants also settled in Minnesota, Louisiana, Indiana and California, according to the map found at Italian Immigration to America.

I love how the cover image focuses on the very worried eyes of the young man in this novel. The Other Side of Freedom is highly recommended for middle-school readers and young teens studying this period of American history. This would make a terrific classroom read or summer-reading option.


Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Playing by Heart

Barb's Book shelf blog title

Set in 18th-century Milan, Playing by Heart is a symphony of romance and faith with an undercurrent of social commentary. Will Maria and Emilia’s father sacrifice their futures on the altar of his own ambitions to join the noble class? Carmela Martino’s new novel for teen readers explores family ties, vocations, and discernment of the best ways to use God-given gifts. Cue up some Vivaldi or Pachelbel and settle in for an intriguing tale.

PlayingbyHeart cover

This historical novel is based on the lives of two sisters, Maria Gaetana Agnesi and Maria Teresa Agnesi, who were gifted in much the same ways as the characters Maria and Emilia are. In the novel, Maria is deeply religious; her only desire is to enter a convent so she can work to serve the poor. But her father is unwilling to give up the social advantages he believes he can gain by showing off Maria’s abilities in languages and mathematics, as well as her younger sister Emilia’s musical talents. Carmela created a website that explains more about the life of the extraordinary Agnesi sisters.

While you’d expect that the spiritual elements of Playing by Heart would center on older sister Maria’s vocation to the religious life, this is not the case. I was surprised, as a reader, to see how much Emilia’s own spiritual life enters into the story. Throughout the novel, Emilia struggles with knowing the will of God for her life, with accepting tragedies that happen to her family, and with her realization that she is being called to make a sacrificial choice for the good of the sister she deeply loves.

Playing by Heart is written for a YA audience; I’d recommend it for readers in high school and up. I’d recommend it for adult readers as well. The story is intriguing and beautifully told, and really invites the reader into the world of the social climber in 18th-century Milan. This novel is a clean romance, steeped in history.

Celebrate the launch of this book!

Book review: Playing by Heart with Carmela Martino (Franciscanmom.com)
Courtesy of Carmela Martino. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Beginning Friday, Oct. 6, Carmela will be celebrating the release of Playing by Heart with a blog tour. You’re invited to visit her website for links to all the tour stops and enter for a chance to win a copy of the novel.

Carmela also plans a Facebook Launch Party on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 7-9 p.m. Central Time, where readers can win not only copies of Playing by Heart but other great books and prizes. Sign up to join the party!


Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Cinder Allia

Karen Ullo’s brand new novel, Cinder Allia, is the perfect read for a rainy summer day. A Cinderella story like you’ve never heard it before, Cinder Allia fills in a grim backstory to the famous Grimm fairy tale. More Joan of Arc than typical fairy-tale heroine, Allia is a take-charge girl who knows that she’s the only one who can change her circumstances.

This novel answers the burning question every reader has about the fairy tale: why would Cinderella’s father allow her stepmother to treat her so badly? Ullo reveals Allia’s stepmother’s motives in keeping her in servitude and serves up a surprising twist in the form of a not-so-perfect Prince Charming.

cinder allia

Who knew that a reader could manage to feel sympathy for the Evil Stepmother? It turns out that she’s trapped between a rock and a hard place too–though she’s still clearly a villain in this tale. And don’t go looking for fairy godmothers, pumpkin coaches or sweet little birds that put together ball gowns. Cinder Allia has none of those.

What it does have is a strong heroine with a keen survival instinct, struggling to overcome circumstances beyond her control in a world rife with treason and treachery. Move over, Katniss Everdeen: there’s a new leading lady in town.

Allia tightened her grip on the sword. Her scabbed palms burned with the wounds of hate while her heart drummed against the cross-shaped scar of love. No matter which she chose, it would leave her bleeding.

I highly recommend this book for teen and adult readers.

About the author: Karen Ullo is the author of the novels Jennifer the Damned (Wiseblood Books 2015) and Cinder Allia. She is managing editor of the Dappled Things journal and also writes recipes for Catholicmom.com. She holds an MFA in screenwriting from the University of Southern California. She is also a classically trained soprano who works as the music director at a church in Baton Rouge, LA, where she lives with her husband and two young sons. Visit her website: www.karenullo.com, Facebook page: www.facebook.com/karenulloauthor and blog: https://karenullo.wordpress.com/

(ARC received from author, who is a fellow member of the Catholic Writers Guild)

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

On Barb’s Bookshelf: McCracken and the Lost Lady

Engineer, solver of mysteries, faithful Catholic and owner of a zeppelin: “Mac” McCracken is an intriguing character even before he ventures into the Russian wilderness in search of a lost icon.

Fifth in Mark Adderley’s adventure series for readers 10 and up, McCracken and the Lost Lady can be read as a standalone story due to the author’s careful inclusion of just enough backstory to inform the reader of what came before–without quenching the reader’s desire to read the rest of the novels.

Lost Lady Front Cover

In the spring of 1917, the world is embroiled in an ugly war and on the brink of change as revolutionaries are poised to take over the government in Russia. McCracken and his team overhear a conversation that leads them straight to Lenin, then receive a surprise commission to seek out the missing icon of the Blessed Mother: the lost Lady of Kazan. Restoration of this icon to its proper place is key to bringing peace to the world.

As we celebrate the centennial of the Fatima apparitions this year, McCracken and the Lost Lady is the perfect historical fiction to accompany a discussion of the historical context of the Blessed Mother’s message at Fatima.

Readers will enjoy the suspense and adventure that follows McCracken as he travels the world with his wife and toddler plus a fascinating crew from all over the world–in a zeppelin complete with its own library, chef’s kitchen, and a wealth of scientific equipment.

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

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Rightfully Ours

I’m thrilled to help introduce Carolyn Astfalk’s most-recent novel, Rightfully Ours (Full Quiver Publishing, 2017.) This one is written for the YA audience, but I’ve read it twice already and savored every page, so don’t leave it for just teenagers to enjoy! The book is already available for Kindle and the print edition can be pre-ordered–it will ship the week after Easter.

Rightfully Ours blog book tour/Barb Szyszkiewicz/Franciscanmom.com
Copyright 2017 Carolyn Astfalk. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

In this refreshing YA romance, readers have the chance to get into the head of the romantic hero. Paul lives in the Muellers’ guesthouse during his father’s deployment. He and Rachel, his landlords’ daughter, find their friendship turning into something deeper; while they struggle against temptation and Rachel’s dad’s opposition to their relationship, they discover historic artifacts buried beneath Rachel’s flower garden. I found Paul to be a more likable character than Rachel, perhaps because she is a few years younger than he and a little more immature.

A coming-of-age story of first love, buried treasure, and discovering some things are worth the wait.

 

One of the ways Carolyn helps to make her characters more real to the reader is by offering extras such as recipes, playlists and more. In this novel, music plays a huge role: when Paul inherits his father’s iPod, he listens to it to keep his connection to his dad alive. He puts the songs on shuffle and discovers that very often the song lyrics speak directly to a situation he’s working through. Carolyn has set up a Spotify playlist with the songs referenced in the novel. You can find that playlist, plus two recipes and other bonus content, on the Rightfully Ours Extras page.

Carolyn describes Rightfully Ours as a “Theology of the Body coming-of-age story.” That doesn’t mean it’s full of heavy theological content. It does mean that this book deals with the very real issues of sexual temptation that teens face, and the characters are challenged to reconcile their moral beliefs with their impulses to give in to that temptation. Readers also get a look at what parents of teenagers go through when they see their teens facing these issues.

Rightfully Ours cover

About the author: Carolyn Astfalk is a friend of mine and fellow Catholic Writers Guild member. She resides with her husband and four children in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where it smells like either chocolate or manure, depending on wind direction. Carolyn is the author of the inspirational romances Stay With Me and Ornamental Graces and the coming-of-age story Rightfully Ours. Carolyn is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild and Pennwriters and a CatholicMom.com contributor. Formerly, she served as the communications director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the public affairs agency of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops. True to her Pittsburgh roots, she still says “pop” instead of “soda,” although her beverage of choice is tea.You can find her online here: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and at CarolynAstfalk.com.

 

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Visit the other stops on the Rightfully Ours book launch tour:

Monday, April 3 Virginia Lieto http://virginialieto.com

Tuesday, April 4 Bird Face Wendy https://birdfacewendy.wordpress.com

Wednesday, April 5 Plot Line and Sinker https://ellengable.wordpress.com

Thursday, April 6 Sarah Damm http://sarahdamm.com and Our Hearts are Restless heartsarerestless.blogspot.com

Saturday, April 8 Olivia Folmar Ard http://www.oliviafolmarard.com

Sunday, April 9 Things Visible & Invisible https://catholicbooksblog.wordpress.com/

Monday, April 10 Terry’s Thoughts www.thouchin.com and Erin McCole Cupp http://erinmccolecupp.com

Thursday, April 11 Peace to All Who Enter Here dmulcare.wordpress.com

Wednesday, April 12 Plot Line and Sinker https://ellengable.wordpress.com

 

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

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz