#OpenBook: September 2017 Reads

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

Fiction

in the light of the gardenIn the Light of the Garden by Heather Burch. Set on an island on Florida’s Gulf Coast, family secrets come to the fore when Charity Baxter inherits her grandfather’s estate and moves to the island to continue his work making custom pottery. Her return to the island reawakens a twenty-year-old burden of guilt about the death of her grandmother. Charity’s neighbor Dalton battles heartbreak of his own, and the meaning of family and the destructive power of long-held secrets are revealed. An excellent story.

dancing with firefliesDancing with Fireflies by Denise Hunter. I couldn’t even tell this book was the second in a series — it’s that well done. Pregnant after date rape, Jade returns to the hometown she’d hoped to leave behind, but she doesn’t feel she can trust her family or neighbors with her secret. Complicating matters is the town’s mayor, a young man who always had a crush on Jade, and whose love she doesn’t feel she’s worthy of.

loves vowLove’s Vow by Melissa Storm. This novella concludes the story of Summer and Ben’s whirlwind romance. When all the little things and some of the big things go wrong as their wedding day approaches, Summer and Ben will need the help of the whole town if they want to get married. I enjoyed reading more about the characters in the “First Street Church” series, including the Kindle Worlds series written by other authors about the same small town.

something like familySomething Like Family by Heather Burch. Abandoned as a teenager by his drug-addicted mother, Rave finds himself entangled with an adrift single mom because he doesn’t want the same thing to happen to her son. When he’s notified that the grandfather he thought was dead is very much alive and wants to meet him, Rave returns to his mother’s home town to seek the family ties he never had — but that little boy is never far from his thoughts. A beautiful story of family, community and devotion.

black narcissusBlack Narcissus by Rumer Godden. When an order of Sisters is given an estate on a mountain in the Himalayas in order to build a school and medical clinic, they must battle temptations of all kinds as they struggle to survive in a new culture and climate. This was a really disturbing story, but that didn’t come without warning. It was noted right at the beginning the the location would be enough to unsettle anyone.

Children’s/YA

PlayingbyHeart coverPlaying by Heart by Carmela Martino. 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. Read my full review. (ARC provided by author)

standing strongStanding Strong by Theresa Linden. Continuing the series she began with Roland West, Loner and continued with two more novels, Linden’s next novel about the West brothers centers on Roland’s two older brothers, who are twins but as opposite as can be. While Jarret works to figure out how to move forward after a life-changing experience (described in Battle for His Soul, which you really need to read before you read this), his twin has a struggle of his own as he discerns whether to join the Franciscan brothers. It’s not easy to reinvent yourself while you’re still in high school, as Jarret West discovers as he seeks a way to turn his life around after an intense spiritual experience. His twin brother couldn’t be more different: Keefe contemplates joining the Franciscan friars. Theresa Linden recounts twin spiritual quests in her newest novel. (ARC provided by author)

Nonfiction

super girls and halosSuper Girls and Halos by Maria Morera Johnson (Ave Maria Press). I love that Maria Morera Johnson began her new book, Super Girls and Halos (Ave Maria Press, 2017), with a quote from the only superhero movie I ever liked: The Incredibles. Mrs. Incredible is probably the first “supergirl” I could relate to. She’s a mom. She worries about her family. She’s the most real superhero I’ve encountered. Maria found a way to show the human side of superheros and saints without diluting their extraordinary virtues. Read my interview with the author. (ARC provided by publisher)

igniteIgnite: Read the Bible like Never Before by Sonja Corbitt and Deacon Harold Burke-Silvers (Servant Books). This book challenges both individuals and groups to try reading the Bible. Acknowledging that many faithful people try reading the Bible but are daunted by dry and difficult readings and commentaries, Sonja and Deacon Harold share some strategies that work for them, setting up a Lectio-Divina-based study structure that can include technological resources such as Bible apps, online daily readings, and print or audio resources. Read my full review. (ARC provided by publisher)

st faustina book conversionTwo Saint Faustina prayer books: Susan Tassone’s “St. Faustina Prayer Book” series focuses the power of intercessory prayer on two great needs: the Holy Souls in Purgatory and the conversion of sinners. The St. Faustina Prayer Book for the Conversion of Sinners and The Saint Faustina Prayer Book for the Holy Souls in Purgatory contain more than prayers. st faustina book holy soulsYou’ll also find essays on conversion, sin, penance, Purgatory and the spirituality of St. Faustina Kowalska. Organized by theme, the books lead the reader through learning and devotions. Read my full review. (ARC provided by publisher)

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

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

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

open book new logo


Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Advertisements

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: Rosa, Sola by Carmela Martino

Carmela Martino deftly handles the sensitive topic of infant loss in Rosa, Sola, a book for children ages 10 and up.

Rosa wants nothing more than a baby brother of her own. But this is more than simple envy over her best friend’s new baby brother. Rosa is an only child, and in 1960s Chicago, that’s a rarity–and she feels like an outsider among all her friends with their large families. Rosa’s wish comes true, but she blames herself for the tragic events that follow.

It’s easy to forget, or overlook, the impact that the death of an unborn or newborn sibling can have on other children in a family. Rosa, Sola explores all the raw emotions that go along with a family tragedy–in a manner that is merciful, not gratuitous.

Parents will appreciate the classroom discussion guide at the end of the book; it’s also available on the author’s website.

rosasola_cvr_lrg-1800-x-2700

As I read this very touching novel, I couldn’t help but consider the Year-of-Mercy implications it contains. Rosa, Sola is all about how the Corporal and Spiritual Mercy can be given and received. With that in mind, I asked author Carmela Martino to discuss this topic from her own point of view and that of a few of the characters.

Carmela, this book deals with the sensitive topic of infant loss as seen through the eyes of an older sibling. How do you recommend that parents handle the discussion of this topic with their children?

The original publisher, Candlewick Press, designated Rosa, Sola for ages 8-12. When I speak to parents, I tell them that it’s aimed at ages 9 and up, but add that it does deal with death. My first recommendation is for parents to read the novel themselves before deciding whether it’s appropriate for their child, especially if the child is under age 10. (The book’s a quick read.) I am not a therapist or an expert on the topic of grief, but I am a parent, as well as an aunt to many nieces and nephews, and I’ve seen how unique a child’s reaction to a book can be, no matter the subject. Teen readers have responded more enthusiastically to Rosa, Sola than I expected. One Chicago-area Catholic school added the novel to their sixth-grade curriculum and it led to terrific discussions. At the other end of the spectrum, I was stunned to read a review of Rosa, Sola written by a seven-year-old. I don’t believe my son would have handled the book well at that age. Yet this seven-year-old wrote an amazing review, admitting that Rosa, Sola “was a very sad book and it made me cry,” but also writing about how Rosa’s family “solves problems together and helps together.” The seven-year-old ended the review by saying “I learned that when someone cries about a book it’s a very good book!”

So perhaps a good place for parents to start a discussion of Rosa, Sola would be by having their child write a book review, or by talking about what points the child would include in a review. This could provide insights into which parts of the book made the greatest impression and lead into a discussion of what the book is really about. Parents may be surprised, as I have been, to find how well children pick up on the novel’s deeper themes. In my opinion, Rosa, Sola isn’t so much about death as it is about how love—God’s love and the love of family and friends—can help us through our darkest moments. Father Kevin Shanley, O. Carm., summarized the novel beautifully in his review of the original hardcover edition: “Challenged by the loss of her brother but ultimately bolstered by hope, young Rosa comes to the great understanding that she is never alone, and that love and kinship are often found in the most unexpected places—right in the middle of life itself.”

By the way, parents will find a “Discussion Questions” section in the back of the new edition of Rosa, Sola. For those with the original hardcover edition, the same discussion questions are available on my website.

Let’s talk with a few of the characters about how they gave and received the works of mercy.

Rosa, what do you wish your friends would have said or done for you when you were feeling bad about your baby brother’s death?

I know you’re supposed to say “I’m sorry” when someone dies, but when my best friend AnnaMaria said that to me, all I could think of was how she had a baby brother and I didn’t. That made me cry, and then I felt embarrassed for crying in front of everyone. I think maybe it would have been better if she’d made me a card and mailed it to my house instead, the way Ma had me do for AnnaMaria when her grandpa died. That way, if the card made me cry, no one would see.

But what I really wish is that my friends would treat me the same as before and not be afraid to talk to me or play with me. I know at first I wanted to be left alone, and I’m glad they didn’t bother me then. But later, when I wanted to be around them again, my friends stayed away from me at lunch and recess. I guess they were afraid of making me cry again. I’m so glad we had the spelling bee! After that, everything went back to normal and I didn’t feel strange or different anymore, even though inside I was still sad.

Rosa, what would you have changed about the way your parents and Aunt Ida handled the subject around you?

First thing, I would have had Papa or Uncle Sal tell me the bad news. I didn’t really like Aunt Ida back then, so it made me extra sad when she was the one who told me. She tried to make me feel better, but she didn’t know how to hold me the way Ma did. Then later, I would have had Papa be home more and not spend so much time at the hospital, and for Papa not to ignore me the way he did when he was home. I would have had him talk to me more, and tell me everything was going to be okay. That Ma would be okay. That our family would be okay.

I just thought of something. Maybe Papa didn’t want to cry in front of me, just like I didn’t want to cry in front of my friends. But I think it would have been good if Papa did cry. Uncle Sal had told me it was okay to cry, and after I did, I felt a little better. I think Papa and me crying together would have helped both of us feel better.

Aunt Ida, what was the hardest part about caring for Rosa while Ma was in the hospital?

Oh, those days were so very terrible. I was afraid Francesca might die and leave Rosa motherless. I grew up without a mother and I feared Rosa might have to suffer in the same way. During those terrible days, I tried my best to make Rosa feel safe, to protect her from worry. But what did I know of mothering? I have no memory of my mother and I never had any children of my own. I think the hardest part was hiding how afraid I really was. I had to be strong for Rosa’s sake, even if she thought I was being cruel. Better Rosa hate me than she should worry about her mama, no?

Mrs. Graziano, as a neighbor and family friend, what was the best thing you were able to do for Rosa or her family?

The best thing? I’m not sure. I tried to be there for whatever help the family needed. They needed someone to care for Rosa before and after school—I was there. They needed food to eat—I cooked. Rosa needed someone to tell her worries to—I let her talk. I tried not to ask too many questions. I didn’t want to be nosy. But when Rosa talked, I listened. Not with just my ears. Con il mio cuore—with my heart. Rosa’s words reminded me of some hard, scary times in my own family. So I told Rosa about those times, and about how everything was okay in the end. Maybe, then, the best thing I did was give Rosa hope that everything would be okay for her family, too.

About the author: Carmela Martino (www.carmelamartino.com) is a freelance writer, children’s author, and writing teacher. Her acclaimed children’s novel, Rosa, Sola, which was inspired by her experiences growing up in an Italian-American family, received the Catholic Writer’s Guild Seal of Approval and was named a Booklist Top Ten First Novel for Youth. Carmela’s articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Catholic Parent, New Catholic Explorer, and numerous other publications. She blogs about writing and teaching at TeachingAuthors.com (www.teachingauthors.com).

Barb's Book shelf blog title

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.

###

This month I’m joining all the cool kids in the #Write31Days adventure! I didn’t pick a keyword or a theme, because just getting something written for all 31 days is challenge enough for me right now.