#OpenBook: July 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

things we knewThe Things We Knew by Catherine West. When I reached the last page of this book, I found it very hard to leave this family of characters behind. Catherine West has created a wonderful group of flawed-but-working-on-it characters, most from one family, and all of whom have been wounded by a family tragedy that no one quite understands. Lynette, the youngest and most wounded, holds the key to everyone’s healing, including her own–but it’s been used to lock up the traumatic memories of what a middle-schooler once witnessed. Addiction and dementia in some characters add to the challenges this family faces. I read this book because Carolyn recommended it! It’s definitely the best novel I’ve read this month.

murphys luckMurphy’s Luck by Benjamin Laskin. A very different romance–quirky, captivating and a terrific story. Murphy Drummer has the worst luck. Everything falls down around him, though he manages to escape unscathed. After he’s kicked out of school, his grandfather keeps him at home, where he tries out every hobby under the son while managing never to leave the house. Murphy manages to make a name and a nice living for himself as a blogger. Once his grandfather dies and he does leave, a chance encounter with a woman who always seems to land on her feet raises the possibility that Murphy’s luck just might change.

cub creekCub Creek by Grace Greene. This novel paints a disturbing picture in a beautiful setting. Libbie is running from a tragic past, but her impulsive purchase of a home in the middle of nowhere turns eerie quickly when she feels like she’s being watched and has flashbacks to some of the horrors in her formative years. Her relocation isn’t enough to keep tragedy from following where she goes. There’s hints at some sort of mental illness on top of Libbie’s abusive family background.

loves highwayLove’s Highway by Jane Lebak. This novella is part of the “First Street Church Kindle Worlds” series by over a dozen different authors. I’m a fan of Jane’s work so I read hers first. Casey, a young woman on the run, shows up in Sweet Grove and lets her guard down immediately when she sees someone abandoning a litter of puppies. She can’t help but be captivated by the community there, especially Peter, who’s willing to put off his own future in order to see his brilliant sister through veterinary school. Casey is challenged to learn her own lessons in sacrifice and trust. This story stands alone, but you’ll want to read more about the town–and I do hope Jane will be writing more about these characters!

loves prophetLove’s Prophet by Melissa Storm. A sweet love story that continues the “First Street Church” small-town romance series. Widower Liam has shut himself off from the world, including his young daughter, who’s on a mission to carry out her mother’s dying wish: to complete the family once again. Molly Sue has her heart set on Jennifer, an old friend of her mom’s; will old memories get in the way of new romance?

 

YA/Kids

spokesSpokes by Deanna K. Klingel. Two homeschooled teens team up to train for a triathlon after a tragic hit-and-run claims the life of Kelsey’s mom. With the help of friars from a nearby monastery, Kelsey and Brendon set out to solve the mystery that has police stymied while each of them works through emotional journeys through grief. Recommended for readers in middle school and up.

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

 

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

 

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.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: March 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

Rightfully Ours coverRightfully Ours by Carolyn Astfalk. 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. Full review coming Friday! (ARC)

upsie daisyUpsie-Daisy: The Adventures of Lee and Bucky Book 999 by Jane Lebak. I’m a big fan of the Lee and Bucky adventures, and this prequel did not disappoint! The story introduces Lee, a clever mechanic who loves her job but can’t bring herself to tell anyone where she works–and whose mother writes resignation letters and mails them to Lee’s boss. You’ll also meet Bucky, Lee’s guardian angel who likes listening to Fleetwood Mac, is quick with the witty banter, and is all about seeing to the state of Lee’s soul. Lebak creates terrific characters and puts them in interesting situations.

sleepingwitness.inddThe Sleeping Witness: A Father Gabriel Mystery by Fiorella deMaria. I read this fast-paced mystery in a single cozy evening. Father Gabriel and his monastic cohorts are a fascinating cast of characters, though I’d have liked more character development. Father Gabriel finds himself defending Dr. Paige, a man he admits is unlikable and who appears guilty–but the priest is convinced there’s more behind the attack on the doctor’s wife. Set in postwar England, the book touches on some harrowing consequences of the war and the secrets borne even by residents of a sleepy, remote hamlet. Read my full review. (ARC)

almost missed youAlmost Missed You by Jessica Strawser. Violet, Finn and their little boy are enjoying a beach vacation when Finn takes their son to their hotel room for a nap–but makes a clean getaway with the little boy instead. This novel turns upon things that almost didn’t happen: all those tiny incidences that, when put together, shape a life. The tale also centers on the secrets we keep–and the ones we share–and the ways in which betrayal of those secrets threatens to tear everything apart. The seeming perfection of Violet and Finn’s marriage is undone by those secrets–the kind that, the longer you keep them, ensnare you all the more. (Netgalley)

making facesMaking Faces by Amy Harmon. A complicated, and very worthwhile, story of sacrificial love. Fern is a romantic at heart–she wants to be the next bestselling author of Harlequin novels–and spends most of her time as a caring companion for her cousin Bailey, who suffers from a degenerative nerve disease and considers himself useless. Fern doesn’t think she has a chance with the handsome Ambrose, who tries to leave the pressures of competitive wrestling behind to enlist in the military with a group of his classmates. When Ambrose is the only one of the group to survive a bomb blast, the whole town is turned upside-down, and Ambrose’s disfigurement makes him believe he’s unworthy of love. Worth it for the surprise ending.

granny torelli makes soupGranny Torelli Makes Soup by Sharon Creech. Sweet novel for middle-grade readers. A grandmother teaches her granddaughter and her best friend, a boy from across the street, some life lessons while they cook pasta and soup. The children are navigating the difficult world of jealousy in friendship, and parallels to Granny Torelli’s own life help them figure out better ways of handling things.

Nonfiction

getting past perfectGetting Past Perfect by Kate Wicker. We need to acknowledge that there’s a difference between perfectionism and striving for excellence. This book offers a great deal of encouragement to moms at all stages of mothering. Read my full review.

 

all inAll In: Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters by Pat Gohn. Readers on any stop along their faith journey can benefit from the wisdom and action steps provided here, on their way to going “all in.” Read my full review.

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

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

 

Copyight 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Ornamental Graces: Book Tour and Character Interview

Carolyn Astfalk’s newest novel, Ornamental Graces, is a Catholic romance with Theology of the Body underpinning the story.

This novel chronicles the on-again, off-again romance between Emily, a young teacher obsessed with all things French, and Dan, whose wounds from a past relationship make him wary of starting over. There are some terrific peripheral characters as well; you’ll want to adopt Grandma. Will Dan be able to finally put his past behind him and open up to new love?

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As part of her blog book tour, Carolyn generously agreed to allow me to interview the supporting characters in the novel.

GRANDMA

What was it about Emily that made you encourage Dan to pursue a relationship with her? 

Oh, I’d like to think after all these years I’m a pretty good judge of character. But I’ll tell you what tipped me off. When we were at the grocery store, there was a young woman with two little ones. While the mother was tending to the toddler having a tantrum in the cart, the older child had helped by getting the eggs – and dropping them on the floor. Emily alerted someone from the store and tried to soothe the mother, who was at the brink of tears. Emily was kind, considerate and helpful. Told me a lot about the kind of young lady she is. I knew that kind of woman would love my Daniel the way he deserved to be loved. And Daniel needed to see what a blessing Emily would be in his life. That she would bring all his better instincts to the surface and help him be the kind of man anyone would be proud to call a friend, a grandson, or a husband.

Tell us about how the power of a grandmother’s prayer was at work in changing Dan’s life.

I pray for each of my grandchildren by name every day, but it’s no secret that Daniel has been special to me. As he grew older, he took care of me more than I took care of him. If I told you all the ways, the list would be long and boring. When he broke up with what’s-her-name, I know he was broken-hearted. I thought given a little time, he’d perk up, but instead he seemed to drift further and further from, well, just about everything good in his life. That’s when I started saying novenas for him, having Masses said, and I particularly called on the Blessed Mother, because she knows what it’s like to watch a son – and that’s what Daniel was to me in many ways – suffer. I know God hears all our prayers, but he doesn’t always answer how and when we’d like. But in this case, he gave me my heart’s desire. I’ve never been prouder of anyone than I was of Daniel when he turned back to God and turned his life around. I’d been praying for the right woman to come along too, and I believe Emily is the answer to that prayer.

ROBERT 

You’re the one who really set up Emily and Dan (or was it Elizabeth?) What was it about the two of them that led you to want them to get together?

He’s a man, she’s a woman, and, frankly, with soon-to-be eight people in this little house, we can’t spare a square foot for Emily. But, seriously, the possibility of getting them together came up while Emily was in her own place anyway. Elizabeth’s been telling me for years I’ve been too overprotective of my sister, so, I’d been making a conscious effort to treat her like a grown-up. Most of the time. And when I looked at her that way, I realized that she’s really something special. You should see her with my kids. I’ve always known she’d make someone a great wife and be a great mom too. But I didn’t want her to settle for just any guy. When I met Dan, I could see them together. They’re both pretty easy-going but hard-working. They take their faith seriously and they like kids. Seemed like a good fit to me.

How did you handle the issue of your good friend dating your little sister?

If I had realized how complicated those two would make it, I might’ve thought twice about the whole thing. On again, off again, on again, off again. I couldn’t keep up. And Dan certainly put me in an awkward position a time or two. I just tried to be straight with both of them and honor whatever they asked of me. Y’know, just be the brother she needed and the friend he needed.

ELIZABETH 

Did you think it was a good idea for Robert to set Dan up with Emily? 

Gosh, yes. Robert was just going to offer to introduce them when he got around to it. Who knows when that would’ve been! So, I took things into my own hands and made plans to get them both around our table at the same time. Listen, we’ve been married awhile, but I know how hard it is to meet people, and Emily – not that she was super picky or anything – but she was looking for a guy with certain values. And, she’s not the most outgoing girl around. After I met Dan and had a pretty good sense of what kind of man he was, I couldn’t wait to give them a chance to get to know one another.

How did the dynamics of their relationship affect your relationship with your sister-in-law?

Well, like Robert said, the whole on again, off again thing was tough to navigate. Maybe it’s because the biggest drama around here is created by people who can’t even use the potty consistently, but I’ll admit to a few eye rolls behind her back. [laughs] But Emily is so dear to me. I’ve watched her grow up. And to watch her fall in love . . . [sigh]. Their whole relationship, with all the starts and stops, meant she needed a friend, and at the same time, so did I. It was the first time we related solely woman to woman. I don’t think of her so much as Robert’s little sister anymore as I do my friend.

KRISTEN

If you’d had the chance to speak with Emily about Dan before they met each other, what would you tell her?

If you’d have asked me a year ago, my answer would be pretty different. But today, uh, I’d tell her to treat him right. That’s he’s a good guy at heart. Maybe I should’ve been a bit more careful with that heart. I don’t know. It’s kind of a time I’d really like to put behind me. We both made mistakes. Mostly me, maybe. I’d tell her to just let him love her.

Visit the other stops on Carolyn’s book tour, and sign up for her author newsletter for news of her next projects, recipes, playlists and more!

About the author: Carolyn Astfalk lives with her husband and four children in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where the wind carries either the scent of chocolate or cow manure. She is a CatholicMom.com contributor and author of the contemporary inspirational romances Stay With Me (Full Quiver Publishing) and Ornamental Graces. (Barb’s note: this bio was provided by Carolyn. I’d like to add that she’s funny, creative, and a really good sport. Follow her on Twitter @CMAstfalk.)

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.

An Open Book: October 2016 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

image-and-likenessImage and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body, edited by Erin McCole Cupp and Ellen Gable. What, exactly, are “literary reflections on the Theology of the Body?” They’re stories and poems about how we live, and how we live our lives in relationship with each other, with our bodies, with our souls, and with God. It’s not some complicated, esoteric subject. Because it’s an anthology, there’s something for everyone, from detective stories to poetry to tales of family life that range from the harrowing to the uplifting. These stories and poems are about life. Like life, they are not always neat and tidy and packaged in a pretty box with a crisply-tied ribbon. I’ve come to expect just this from other work from Full Quiver Publishing: this publisher does not shy away from difficult subjects and situations in its commitment to promoting the culture of life and the Church’s teaching on marriage and family. Read my full review. (ARC provided by author)

og-front-cover-finalOrnamental Graces by Carolyn Astfalk. This is no Harlequin/gothic/bodice-ripper/shades-of-grey novel. That’s not Carolyn Astfalk’s style. Ornamental Graces, like her previous novel, Stay with Me, is a Catholic romance with Theology of the Body underpinning the story. This novel tells the story of the on-again, off-again romance between Emily, a young teacher obsessed with all things French, and Dan, whose wounds from a past relationship make him wary of starting over. There are some terrific peripheral characters as well; you’ll want to adopt Grandma. Will Dan be able to finally put his past behind him and open up to new love? Read my full review. (ARC provided by author)

i-believe-you-by-jeanne-grunertI Believe You by Jeanne Grunert. David Majek and his sons are still finding their way 6 months after his wife was killed by a hit-and-run driver who was never apprehended for the crime. Then strange things start happening: a man in a fedora is watching the house, David’s bank account is drained of funds overnight, and as David struggles to maintain his household, run the family business and untangle these mysteries, details come to light that threaten to tear the family apart. I don’t usually read suspense novels, preferring fare that is more character-driven. But I found that David Majek’s character was quite well-developed in this novel, and it didn’t take long for me to get drawn into the story. Read my full review. (Review copy provided by author)

journey-to-the-crossJourney to the Cross by Shane Cloonan. The story in this children’s picture book is told from the point of view of the donkey who carried the Blessed Mother to Bethlehem, where she would give birth to Jesus; in this tale, the same donkey carried Jesus on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Passion Sunday, 33 years later. This book by a teenage author is worth adding to your Christmas-book basket. (ARC received from publisher)

unexpected-roleAn Unexpected Role by Leslea Wahl. This YA book is about a high-school theatre geek who doesn’t fit in with the cool kids and who’s been the target of some in-person pranks and cyberbullying. Seeking a fresh start, she spends the summer with her aunt, only to keep running into one of the cool kids from home. Josie and Ryan get wrapped up in trying to solve a rash of local robberies. Great characters, painfully real situations, mystery and even a love interest–with some wisdom in the side. (I liked Wahl’s other work so much I preordered this one as soon as I heard about it!)

under-rose-tainted-skiesUnder Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall. A housebound teenager battles agoraphobia and OCD. Left home alone for weeks while her mother goes on a business trip and recovers from a car accident, Norah develops a friendship with the boy next door, who shows her that not everyone sees her as a freak. The author does well at getting into the head of a teen battling mental illness, but the concept of leaving so unstable a teen home alone for any length of time didn’t ring true. (Netgalley review)

unnamed-9Nameless by Erin McCole Cupp. This second in a 3-part futuristic sendup of Charlotte Bronte’s classic Jane Eyre will keep you up nights! In Nameless, Jane_E is now employed as a live-in tutor for her employer’s young ward, and works there several weeks before meeting her employer. Once she does, though, sparks begin to fly! As Jane_E is convinced of her own ugliness, awkwardness and unworthiness, she questions Thorne’s motives and doubts his sincerity. Inevitably, romance ensues–but then the mysterious source of strange household events is revealed, and this threatens Jane_E’s integrity as well as her relationship with Thorne. I found this installment of the story even more suspenseful than the first part. Highly recommended! Read my full review. (ARC provided by author)

Nonfiction

loehr-2aThe Church is Our Mother by Gina Loehr. The author breaks down the functions of the Church into 7 activities which every mother is familiar with doing: creating, caring, teaching, accepting, sacrificing, healing and celebrating. Loehr compares the work of a mother with the work of the Church in concrete ways. 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

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Ornamental Graces

Released today at Amazon.com: Carolyn Astfalk’s latest romance, Ornamental Graces!

This is no Harlequin/gothic/bodice-ripper/shades-of-grey novel. That’s not Carolyn’s style. Ornamental Graces, like Carolyn’s previous novel, Stay with Me, is a Catholic romance with Theology of the Body underpinning the story.

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I’m going to be hosting Carolyn (more accurately, I’ll be hosting some characters from the novel) during her book tour next month. But as a “beta reader” (someone who reads a draft or two of a novel and offers feedback to the author on whether a plot point comes out of the clear blue sky, if something a character says doesn’t sound like something that character would say, if canaries are native to western Pennsylvania or if hemorrhoid cream needs to be mentioned at all–I voted NO on that one), I couldn’t resist telling you a little about the book today, on its “birthday!”

Ornamental Graces tells the story of the on-again, off-again romance between Emily, a young teacher obsessed with all things French, and Dan, whose wounds from a past relationship make him wary of starting over. There are some terrific peripheral characters as well; you’ll want to adopt Grandma. Will Dan be able to finally put his past behind him and open up to new love?

Join the Party!

Author Carolyn Astfalk is hosting a book launch party on Facebook tonight (October 11, 2016) at 7:30 PM Eastern. Everyone is invited; come on over, learn more about this book and some other terrific books by Carolyn’s friends, play some fun party games and even participate in the Selfie Scavenger Hunt! If you want to get a head start on the selfies, here’s the info you need.

Courtesy of Carolyn Astfalk. All rights reserved.
Courtesy of Carolyn Astfalk. All rights reserved.

I look forward to sharing more about this novel during the book tour, and giving you a behind-the-scenes look at some of these great characters! But you don’t have to wait until the book tour to read and enjoy Ornamental Graces.

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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.

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.

#OpenBook: September 2016 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

Review of "The Perfect Blindside" at Franciscanmom.comThe Perfect Blindside by Leslea Wahl. Told from dual points of view, this novel follows Jake, a self-described “snowboarding phenom” and teenage Olympian with a chip on his shoulder and his classmate Sophie, a small-town girl who’s proud of it–and who tends to geek out over local history. With true-to-life characters, an intriguing mystery and a setting so real you’ll imagine yourself walking down Main Street, this novel had me saying “Just one more chapter” over and over again. Read my full review.

silver-threadsSilver Threads by Bette Lee Crosby. Fate takes a starring role in this novel as the Keeper of the Scales tries to equalize the balance of happiness and unhappiness in people’s lives. Unable to prevent the tragic from occurring, all the compassionate Keeper can do is try to equalize balance after it is tipped too far in an unhappy direction. He’s a peripheral character but a very important one, and the reader sympathizes with his difficult task even as they mourn tragedies that tear apart families. 5th in Bette Lee Crosby’s “Memory House” series, this book can stand alone (but why would you want it to? The characters that populate this series are wonderful! This review is based on a Netgalley copy of the book.

rosa-solaRosa, Sola by Carmela Martino. 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. Recommended for readers 10 and up. As this is a sensitive topic, parents will appreciate the classroom discussion guide at the end of the book (it’s great for family discussion as well!)

promise-kitchenThe Promise Kitchen by Peggy Lampman. The story of two women from completely different walks of life: Shelby is an undereducated teen mom who wants her daughter to have better opportunities; Mallory is a high-powered food blogger with old money behind her. They’re linked by a love of good food, though Mallory looks down on Shelby, who works in the supermarket deli. I couldn’t like Mallory no matter how hard I tried; I just could not muster sympathy for this character. (Netgalley review)

things-we-wish-were-trueThe Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen. This is a story of a neighborhood that’s full of secrets. Every time you think you’ve gotten to the last one, there’s another secret waiting that’s worse than the one before. The town looks perfect on the outside but everyone is hiding something–but the worst secret of all is right under everyone’s nose, and it takes a middle-schooler to discover it. Multiple points of view make the story difficult to follow at times. (Netgalley review)

wonderWonder by R.J. Palacio. Excellent book for middle-school readers about a 5th-grader with a craniofacial deformity who learns to make his way in school after years of homeschooling. Told from multiple points of view, the story follows Auggie as he and his family navigate middle-school social pressures on top of very visible medical issues.

ciao-bellaCiao, Bella: A Novel about Searching for Beauty and Finding Love by Ryan M. Phillips. There was so much I wanted to like about this book. Mack owns a bookstore. She’s committed to her faith. She’s the poster child for reality shows like “What Not to Wear.” But she lets her newfound glamour go to her head and tear her away from what (and who) really matters. For well over half the book, you watch her make one bad decision after another as she lets herself be pursued and pushed around by a handsome movie star who’s looking for arm candy. Resolution in the story comes in the last 3 pages, at which point the tale slams to a screeching halt.

Nonfiction

feeding-your-familys-soul-dmcobFeeding Your Family’s Soul by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle. As you cook, chat and pray your way through this book, you and your family will learn about virtues, Church tradition, sacraments, works of mercy, prayers, forming consciences and more. My favorite part of each chapter is the “Extra Credit” where family members are invited to go beyond the lesson and carry out what is learned in some aspect of daily life. These activities can be done by anyone old enough to be in school. Read my full review.

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

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!

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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.

#OpenBook: August 2016 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. We went on vacation during August, so I had plenty of time to savor some good novels!

Fiction

pretty-lies-other-storiesPretty Lies and Other Stories by Olivia Folmar Ard. Short stories and poetry, all first-person and nearly all anonymous. Ard’s short fiction is very short indeed–the longest selections are a few pages long, but she wastes no words in telling very detailed slice-of-life tales.

 

anne-green-gables-collectionAnne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery. Not just for middle-schoolers; I found more to like in Marilla this time around. When I was a tween/teen, she was the villain in the novels! Anne is captivating and wise beyond her years. The second book is less compelling than the first, but still worthwhile. I wasn’t motivated to read more in the series, though.

saving-abbySaving Abby by Steena Holmes. Steena Holmes gets you hooked on a character and then turns your expectations and emotions inside-out in this novel about a husband and wife who want nothing more than to become parents. A devastating diagnosis threatens the life of both the unborn baby and the mother-to-be.

everything-we-keepEverything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale. She should be dressed in a bridal gown instead of attending her fiance’s funeral. Aimee never saw the body, either. So when a psychic approaches her after the service with claims that her fiance is still alive, she HAS to follow up. This is a novel of grief, the power of love, and letting go.

pug-listThe Pug List by Alison Hodgson. Read after I heard part of an author interview on the Jennifer Fulwiler Show (Sirius/XM’s The Catholic Channel.) I just didn’t know what to make of this book sometimes. I’m aware that it was written after the trauma of a house fire (everyone was fine, but the home was a total loss) and the family was at loose ends as a result, but sometimes I felt that the emotion, expressed after the fact, seemed forced and overpowered the story the author was trying to tell.

unexpected-everythingThe Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson. YA novel about a politician’s daughter who loses an internship after her father’s political fall from grace. A dog-walking job introduces her to a young novelist and forces her to consider what really matters in terms of relationships and honesty. Good story of resilience and friendship.

life-listThe Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman. Brett’s mother is a high-powered cosmetics executive. After her death, 34-year-old Brett receives her life-goal list–written when she was only 14. Brett has 12 months to achieve those goals in order to receive her inheritance. An enjoyable, if predictable, read. There really weren’t too many plot twists, but I did like the characters and wanted to see how it all turned out.

recipe-by-candace-calvertThe Recipe by Candace Calvert. Short, sweet romance about a young woman seeking her way in the world, aided by a little blackmail, a stroke victim, an organic farmstand and a well-intentioned grandson. Good story with great characters!

Nonfiction

WLA-PWorks of Love are Works of Peace by Michael Collopy. While biographies are a wonderful way to get to know a person, they don’t always tell the whole story. Photographer Michael Collopy proves that images can say much more than words in this newly-reissued photobook from Ignatius Press, which documents the work of St. Teresa of Calcutta and her Missionaries of Charity. Originally published in 1996, the large-format book has been updated with an appendix containing the contents of the Missionaries of Charity daily prayer book as well as a most personal and profound letter on the interior life written by Mother Teresa during Holy Week of 1993 and addressed to her entire order. Described by the publisher as an “illustrated prayer book,” this book is an extended photo essay that brings home the radical life of service modeled by Blessed Mother Teresa and the Sisters. Full review here.

marys-wayMary’s Way: The Power of Entrusting Your Child to God by Judy Klein. This is both a testament to perseverance and a guide to surrender. Judy Klein shares her own heartbreaks as a mother, tracing her journey as a parent and a Catholic. But this book is more than a memoir: it’s a call to a very specific kind of prayer by mothers for their own children. Full review here.

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

I received review copies of both nonfiction books from the publishers in exchange for my honest review. I purchased all the fiction books myself or borrowed them from the library. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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!

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#OpenBook: April 2016 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

A Cup of Dust: A Novel of the Dust Bowl by Susie Finkbeiner. This harrowing novel graphically depicts the hardships faced in Western Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl years. Ten-year-old Pearl sees the poverty around her and learns about mercy through the way her parents share what they have with those who have nothing. Unfortunately, some of these works of mercy lead to opening the door to the revelation of a family secret and putting the entire family at risk.

Just Claire by Jean Ann Williams. This coming-of-age novel for tweens and up focuses on Claire, the oldest in a large family that has just relocated due to a job change for their father. They live in a cabin in a lumber camp in a Western state. The move brings on labor for Claire’s mother, and Claire is left caring for several siblings when her mother experiences birth complications and postpartum depression. 13-year-old Claire tries to fit in at school but is caught between the Mean Girls and Belinda, a true friend who is bullied by her peers and whose family situation is worse than Claire’s.

Frozen Footprints by Therese Heckencamp. 18-year-old twins, growing up under the thumb of their wealthy but tyrannical grandfather, find different ways to deal with the situation. Max is all set to run away when he is kidnapped by a disgruntled former employee of his grandfather. Charlene, closely bonded with her brother, seeks to save him when her grandfather refuses and finds herself a hostage as well. Then the kidnapper’s brother enters the picture. This novel will keep readers guessing the whole time.

after the thawAfter the Thaw by Therese Heckencamp. This fast-paced suspense novel picks up a few years after Frozen Footprints leaves off, continuing main character Charlene’s story. She can’t break off the link with her kidnapper’s brother who was forced to torture her and Max but who wanted to help them escape. The villains were unspeakably frightening.

admissionsThe Admissions by Meg Mitchell Moore. A novel of a Bay Area family whose life is coming apart at the seams. Stressors include a high-school senior trying to get into Harvard, a second-grader who can’t read, a realtor mom whose high-priced deals start falling through, and a mysterious intern at the dad’s office. From what I’ve read so far, I think a better title might be “By Hook or By Crook” as it seems like most of the members of this family are bent on getting what they want by any means necessary. I’m reading this right now and I have to say, I find it disturbing. I’m actually puzzled about why my mother insisted that I get my hands on this book. Honestly, that’s why I haven’t abandoned it yet–I’m trying to figure out why she recommended it to me!

Nonfiction

girlfriends and other saintsGirlfriends and Other Saints by Teresa Tomeo. Teresa Tomeo’s spiritual writing has a style all its own; she’s funny without being shallow and she doesn’t hesitate to tell it like it is. Best of all, you don’t need a degree in Sacred Theology to benefit from her books. My full review is here.

talking to GodTalking to God by Julie Cragon. Get your hands on this new prayer book by Julie Cragon, but don’t read it all the way through. That’s not what Talking to God is for. It’s a small book (on purpose), just right to slide into your handbag for easy reference in prayer emergencies. My full review is here.

hope unfoldingHope Unfolding by Becky Thompson. Part spiritual memoir, part devotional, Hope Unfolding explores how moms can learn to lean on God: we shouldn’t be trying to do it all by ourselves. Each chapter of the book concludes with journal prompts, a prayer and a note of hope. Becky Thompson writes from the perspective of a mom with very young children. Though I haven’t fit into that category for quite a while, this book still spoke to me. My full review is here.

divine mercy for momsDivine Mercy for Moms by Michele Faehnle and Emily Jaminet. For moms with children of any age, this book packs a strong spiritual punch. It’s loaded with advice on living the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in family life and comes complete with an excellent resource list, including a tutorial on the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

four keys to everlasting loveThe Four Keys to Everlasting Love by Dr. Manuel and Karee Santos. This husband-and-wife writing team has put together a book on how to maintain a healthy sacramental marriage in a society that doesn’t support such a relationship. This comprehensive book is an excellent resource for marriage prep, but it’s not just for engaged couples or even newlyweds. Married couples in all stages of life can benefit from the sage advice they’ll find here. While couples whose relationships are on rocky ground will find help and hope in this book, it also contains plenty of encouragement for the growth and maintenance of healthy married relationships.

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!

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#OpenBook: March 2016 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. (Note: I read a few duds this month, so I’ve limited my list to the good stuff.)

Fiction

pennies from burger heavenPennies from Burger Heaven by Marcy McKay. A beautifully-written novel about a homeless child of a drug-addicted mother, and the child’s attempts at survival in threatening situations when her mother unexpectedly disappears. This novel will stay with you for a long time.

 

 

blue eyed dollBlue-Eyed Doll by Deanna Klingel. This fascinating historical novel, appropriate for middle-school students and up, transports the reader to 1920s California, where students collected dolls to exchange for dolls from students in Japan, and follows the collectible dolls into World War II and its aftermath. Don’t miss the gutsy main character–she’s terrific.

 

behaveBehave by Andromeda Romano-Lax. Behave is a disturbing novel centering on one of the pioneers of behavioral research, John Watson, and his second wife. It’s easy to consider this a novel, rather than a novelized biography.
I found the “inside baseball” on what went on in those psychology behavior labs scary, and would have liked to have seen more on the outcome of the lives of any child who spent part of his infancy in the labs.

 

Nonfiction

badass book of saintsMy Badass Book of Saints by Maria Morera Johnson. Packed full of stories of saints and saints-to-be whose courage belies the typical holy-card image, this book inspires women who don’t shy away from a challenge. Maria Johnson has collected a wonderful assortment of examples of contemporary women and saints from a wide variety of time periods and organized them according to qualities they had in common, such as challenging the status quo, showing perseverance, or living and dying to uphold human dignity. Highly recommended–this would be a great Confirmation gift!

spring meditations Liguori PubSpring Meditations by John Bartunek, LC. I reviewed this book here.

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.

Visit today’s #OpenBook post to join the linkup or just get some great ideas about what to read!

Courtesy of Carolyn Astfalk via A Scribber's Heart Blog.
Courtesy of Carolyn Astfalk via A Scribber’s Heart Blog.