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.

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Small Success: Live and In Person

Thursdays at CatholicMom.com begin with a look at the past week’s Small Successes!

I’m pretty sure I know what book Sherry is reading, based on what she says in her post. I’m actually reading the same book: Little Sins Mean a Lot by Elizabeth Scalia. Really good stuff.

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Last weekend I was so fed up with all the politics on social media that when I saw the second or third reference to one of my Favorite Novels Ever in Scalia’s book, I bailed on all the rest and took refuge in that novel. It was practically a retreat. Highly recommended. And that was a huge success for me.

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Another huge success: getting to meet (live and in person) about 1/5 of the contributors to The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion (coming in August! Preorder yours now!)

CM Prayer Companion cover art

Here we all are! I’m in the back, with the Tall People™ for once!

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Photo taken by CatholicMom.com contributor Rakhi McCormick on Lisa Hendey’s cell phone.Shared by Lisa Hendey on Facebook.

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Share your Small Successes at CatholicMom.com by joining the linkup in the bottom of today’s post. No blog? List yours in the comments box!

Book links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchase through these links supports this website. Thank you!

A Writer’s Conference, Friends Old and New, and More Selfies than You Can Shake a Stick At

CWCO_live_smMeet and greet: that was the name of the game at the Catholic Writers Guild Live Conference last week. (It’s called a Live Conference because there’s also an online version in the spring!)

I started right off meeting and greeting as I filled in at the registration desk, stuffing bags and checking in a few authors. My first conference selfie wound up being photobombed.

At the registration desk with Janet Willett. Photobomb courtesy of Ron O'Gorman.
At the registration desk with Janice Willett. Photobomb courtesy of Ron O’Gorman.

Why the selfies? There was a contest. That started off being just for fun, but then there were prizes!

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With Ellen Gable Hrkach, author and owner of Full Quiver Publishing, in the Trade Show booth.
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With the “Paper Pope” and volunteer coordinator Rebecca Willen. The folks at OSV were holding the “Welcome Pope Francis” sign.
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With @datechguyblog, a Catholic radio show host–who rocked the hat.

I am terrible at selfies, but it was fun.

More meeting and greeting continued at the Tuesday-night ice cream social. I got to meet my boss, Lisa Hendey of CatholicMom.com, who declared that I’m shorter than I appear on the Internet. Yes, before Tuesday, I had never met my boss or even spoken with her over the phone. Internet magic!

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I got to meet authors and an editor at breakfast the next day. I wished I’d brought along my copy of Unleashed so Sonja Corbitt could have signed it. I suppose a hug will have to do.

With Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB and Erin McCole-Cupp, OP.
With Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB and Erin McCole-Cupp, OP.

I participated in a panel discussion on third-order religious life with Benedictine Oblate Margaret Rose Realy and Lay Dominican Erin McCole-Cupp.

The conference theme was Perseverance, and I listened to two excellent presentations on that theme.

From Pat Gohn:

God’s steadfast love is the basis for our perseverance.

From Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB:

Schedules matter; if you’re consistently off-schedule that means your plan isn’t realistic.

So true. I know all about unrealistic plans.

I enjoyed lunch with Lisa, worked a couple of shifts at the Trade Show booth where I answered questions about what the Catholic Writers Guild does and recommended some of my favorite books by Guild authors.

The Wednesday dinner table included me, one kids’ fiction writer, two sci-fi writers, one horror writer, one poet, one Sherlock Holmes fanfic writer and two fiction writers. I’ll leave the conversation topics to your imagination and promise that it was even more outrageous than that.

With (rear) Nancy Ward, Lisa Mladinich, Pat Gohn, Karee Santos, Lisa Hendey, Leticia Velasquez, (front) Jeff Young (the Catholic Foodie) and Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB.
With (rear) Nancy Ward, Lisa Mladinich, Pat Gohn, Karee Santos, Lisa Hendey, Leticia Velasquez, and (front) Jeff Young (the Catholic Foodie) and Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB.

Thursday’s breakfast banquet offered an opportunity to meet some of the wonderful CatholicMom.com authors I work with. The only drawback: there was a banquet speaker, so we had to eat quietly and listen, but all we wanted to do was visit with each other!

My St. Francis "bag booster." It's even more gorgeous in person!
My St. Francis “bag booster.” It’s even more gorgeous in person!

I met an illustrator and was asked for feedback on her manuscript. I chatted with a bookstore owner about the need for good Catholic books for kids. I did a little shopping–got a St. Francis “bag booster” from CatholicArtWorks.com, a neat family business where Mom does the art and the teenage daughters do custom and unique beadwork. No two bag boosters are alike! And these are not cheesy plastic. That stained-glass piece is heavy and sturdy.

Tiny Nativity in a pottery "stable"--it fits in the palm of my hand!
Tiny Nativity in a pottery “stable”–it fits in the palm of my hand!

This little Nativity came from Ole Peru Imports. She had Nativity scenes of all sizes from Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. All are handmade and unique.

With notebooks by Jen Norton, illustrator. Her artwork is even more beautiful in person.
With notebooks by Jen Norton, illustrator. Her artwork is beautiful and unique.

And I purchased two notebooks from Jen Norton, who did the cover art for Sarah Reinhard’s Word by Word book, for which I was a participating author.

I met so many people whose work I admire, and so many others whose work I’m just beginning to know. It was a wonderful event!

Small Success: Shoes, Schedules and Chocolate

ThuSmall Success dark blue outline 800x800rsdays at CatholicMom.com begin with a look at the past week’s Small Successes!

1. For work, I’ve gotten a lot done and prescheduled and I have a plan to continue to get ahead in advance of the Catholic Writers Guild conference, coming up in less than 2 weeks. That’s a WIN for productivity.

2. I made a run to the shoe store this morning, not for retail therapy (my usual reason for buying shoes) but because tendonitis in both feet is flaring up again and I didn’t have any shoes in the house that I could wear without pain. More than that, I was worried that I’d have to show up at the CWG Conference (and meet lots of people of influence) dressed like Melanie Griffiths in the opening scenes of Working Girl: business attire and running shoes. earth origins sadieI found something I like that can be worn with dress pants and that give my feet the support they need: Earth Origins Sadie. I feel like I can stand up in these shoes all day long. They’re not formal, but they’ll be fine with black or gray trousers and a nice blouse–and that’s exactly what I needed.

I also need to bite the bullet and get rid of all the shoes that hurt when I wear them, because clearly I cannot wear them anymore.

3. I baked a decadent dessert for tonight’s folk group practice. CMP browniesWe’re celebrating the 45th wedding anniversary of two of our group’s founding members. So here’s your sneak peek at CMP Brownies (chocolate, marshmallow, peanut). I’ll be writing up the recipe later for Cook and Count.

4. I managed to semi-reschedule my Adoration hour to accommodate The Kid’s camp pickup time (which is not flexible.) I’m blessed to share my hour with a retired couple, so I made sure they’d be there, and then started my hour early so I could leave early and make it to pickup. Usually I hate, hate, hate both rescheduling things and asking for accommodations, but I survived the experience.

Share your Small Successes at CatholicMom.com by joining the linkup in the bottom of today’s post. No blog? List yours in the comments box!

Note: that link for the shoes is an Amazon affiliate link, which means if you follow that link and purchase something from Amazon, I’ll get a little kickback that can be applied to one of the gazillion books on my wish list. Or more shoes.

Book Blast: Seven Saints for Seven Virtues

Once a month, the Catholic Writers Guild hosts a Book Blast where members  provide social-media publicity for a randomly-chosen book written by a CWG member.

7 saints 7 virtues bookThis month’s selection is a favorite of mine, by one of my favorite bloggers: Jean Heimann’s Seven Saints for Seven Virtues!

I’ve followed Jean’s blog, Catholic Fire, for years; the same careful scholarship and fervent faith she shows in the blog is revealed in this book. This book examines seven saints of the Church in association with a virtue for which each one is known.

Read my full review here.

Your purchase of Seven Saints for Seven Virtues through my Amazon affiliate link helps to offset the costs of my website! Thanks!

50+ Better Things to Read #ShowUsYourList

In the name of accentuating the positive and coming up with solutions instead of just complaining about problems, Catholic author ErinMcCole-Cupp has proposed that people who love to read good books share their lists of works of quality fiction that celebrate truth, beauty and goodness rather than tearing down the dignity of the human person.

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Here are 50+ WAY Better Novels:

  1. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith. My all-time favorite book EVER.
  2. Rachel’s Contrition by Michelle Buckman
  3. Death Panels by Michelle Buckman
  4. Angela’s Song by AnnMarie Creedon
  5. Cracks in the Sidewalk by Bette Lee Crosby
  6. The Twelfth Child by Bette Lee Crosby
  7. Spare Change by Bette Lee Crosby
  8. Jubilee’s Journey by Bette Lee Crosby
  9. Previously Loved Treasures by Bette Lee Crosby
  10. What Matters Most by Bette Lee Crosby
  11. Passing Through Perfect by Bette Lee Crosby
  12. Wishing for Wonderful by Bette Lee Crosby
  13. Don’t You Forget About Me by Erin McCole-Cupp
  14. Jane_E., Friendless Orphan by Erin McCole-Cupp
  15. Nest by Esther Ehrlich. YA.
  16. Greater Treasures:  A DragonEye Novella by Karina Fabian
  17. Georgios by A.K. Frailey
  18. The Scent of Lilacs by Ann Gabhart
  19. In Name Only by Ellen Gable
  20. A Subtle Grace by Ellen Gable
  21. Emily’s Hope by Ellen Gable
  22. Stealing Jenny by Ellen Gable
  23. The Truth About the Sky by Katharine Grubb
  24. Falling for Your Madness by Katharine Grubb
  25. Genius Under Construction by Marilee Haynes. YA.
  26. Past Suspicion by Therese Heckencamp
  27. Casting the First Stone by Lisa Hess
  28. A Hunger in the Heart by Kaye Park Hinckley
  29. The Lion’s Heart by Dena Hunt
  30. The Opposite of Hallelujah by Anna Jarzab. YA.
  31. Julia’s Hope by Leisha Kelly
  32. Cracks in the Ice by Deanna Klingel
  33. A World Such as Heaven Intended by Amanda Purcell Lauer
  34. The Paper Cowboy by Kristin Levine. YA.
  35. Hijacked by Leslie Lynch
  36. Unholy Bonds by Leslie Lynch
  37. Opal’s Jubilee by Leslie Lynch
  38. A Christmas Hope by Leslie Lynch
  39. When Mike Kissed Emma by Christine Marciniak, YA.
  40. Reality Ali by Christine Marciniak, YA.
  41. Lights, Camera, Ali by Christine Marciniak, YA.
  42. Honestly, Ali! by Christine Marciniak. YA.
  43. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  44. Fatal Rhythm by R. B. O’Gorman
  45. Finding Grace by Laura Pearl
  46. Erin’s Ring by Laura Pearl. YA.
  47. Hush Hush by Michelle Quigley
  48. O Little Town by Don Reid
  49. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  50. Best Wishes, Sister B by Fran Smith
  51. Bird Face by Cynthia T. Toney. YA.
  52. Digital Me by J.M. Varner. YA.
  53. Mister Teacher Person by J.M. Varner. YA.
  54. Breathing On Her Own by Rebecca Williams Waters

I’ve read all of these books and consider them all Really GOOD Fiction. Quality fiction. Well-written fiction. Fiction you wouldn’t be ashamed to leave around your living room, read in a public place, or have your teenager pick up and read.

I’ve met the authors of some of these books. I’ve been a beta reader for some of them. I know the care they take in crafting novels that are well-written, with interesting characters and fascinating plots–novels that show respect for both the character AND the reader. Some of these are YA, but I’ve got nothing against reading good YA stuff. This list does reflect my taste (almost no no time travel, sci-fi or dystopian stuff, although I’m sure there’s plenty of those novels out there that are of good quality.)

Not all of these authors are Catholic authors. Not all of them are indie authors. But many of them are. I have read ALL of these books and am happy to recommend them far and wide. Also, this list is limited to novels. Because it’s my list, so I’m setting the parameters.

Learn more about Erin’s Show Us Your List movement! Share your list of good-quality entertainment, tag the Big Cheeses of Catholic Media, and support your positive, not-scandalous, writers.

© 2015 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.
Image credit:  Erin McCole-Cupp. Used with permission.

Read This Instead: 50 WAY Better Novels

I’m building on Erin McCole-Cupp’s challenge to Catholic media types to spend at least half the time they spend telling people why they shouldn’t go see That Movie (or read That Book) recommending positive, worthwhile entertainment in its place.

(Not that I fancy myself a Catholic media type. But I know how to tag people on Twitter, and tag I shall.)

It’s like that bit at the end of Alice’s Restaurant.

Or you may be in a similar situation, and if you’re in a situation like that, there’s only one thing you can do:

Walk into the shrink wherever you are, just walk in, say, “Shrink, . . . you can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant”, and walk out.

You know, if one person, just one person, does it, they may think he’s really sick and they won’t take him.

And if two people do it, in harmony, they may think they’re both ******* and they won’t take either of them.

And if three people do it! Can you imagine three people walkin’ in, singin’ a bar of “Alice’s Restaurant” and walkin’ out? They may think it’s an Organization!

And can you imagine fifty people a day? I said FIFTY people a day . . .
Walkin’ in, singin’ a bar of “Alice’s Restaurant” and walkin’ out? Friends, they may think it’s a MOVEMENT, and that’s what it is: THE ALICE’S RESTAURANT ANTI-MASSACREE MOVEMENT! . . . and all you gotta do to join is to sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar.

With feelin’.

In the hopes that this becomes a Movement, I’ve gone through my Goodreads list and found you a whole bunch of Really GOOD Fiction. Quality fiction. Well-written fiction. Fiction you wouldn’t be ashamed to leave around your living room, read in a public place, or have your teenager pick up and read.

I’ve met the authors of some of these books. I’ve been a beta reader for some of them. I know the care they take in crafting novels that are well-written, with interesting characters and fascinating plots–and novels that show respect for both the character AND the reader. Some of these are YA, but I’ve got nothing against reading good YA stuff. This list does reflect my taste (almost no no time travel, sci-fi or dystopian stuff, although I’m sure there’s plenty of those novels out there that are of good quality.)

Not all of these authors are Catholic authors. Not all of them are indie authors. But many of them are. I have read ALL of these books and am happy to recommend them far and wide. Also, this list is limited to novels. Because it’s my list, so I’m setting the parameters.

tree grows in brooklyn
My very favorite book EVER. I’m on my third copy.

In no particular order of preference, except for #1. I sorted my Goodreads list by author. If you want to see what I liked about these books, you can read my reviews at Goodreads.

Here are 50 WAY Better Novels:

  1. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith. My all-time favorite book EVER.
  2. Cracks in the Sidewalk by Bette Lee Crosby
  3. The Twelfth Child by Bette Lee Crosby
  4. Spare Change by Bette Lee Crosby
  5. Jubilee’s Journey by Bette Lee Crosby
  6. Previously Loved Treasures by Bette Lee Crosby
  7. What Matters Most by Bette Lee Crosby
  8. Passing Through Perfect by Bette Lee Crosby
  9. Wishing for Wonderful by Bette Lee Crosby
  10. Don’t You Forget About Me by Erin McCole-Cupp
  11. Jane_E., Friendless Orphan by Erin McCole-Cupp
  12. Nest by Esther Ehrlich. YA.
  13. Greater Treasures:  A DragonEye Novella by Karina Fabian
  14. Georgios by A.K. Frailey
  15. The Scent of Lilacs by Ann Gabhart
  16. In Name Only by Ellen Gable
  17. A Subtle Grace by Ellen Gable
  18. Emily’s Hope by Ellen Gable
  19. Stealing Jenny by Ellen Gable
  20. The Truth About the Sky by Katharine Grubb
  21. Falling for Your Madness by Katharine Grubb
  22. Genius Under Construction by Marilee Haynes. YA.
  23. Past Suspicion by Therese Heckencamp
  24. Casting the First Stone by Lisa Hess
  25. A Hunger in the Heart by Kaye Park Hinckley
  26. The Lion’s Heart by Dena Hunt
  27. The Opposite of Hallelujah by Anna Jarzab. YA.
  28. Julia’s Hope by Leisha Kelly
  29. Cracks in the Ice by Deanna Klingel
  30. The Paper Cowboy by Kristin Levine. YA.
  31. Hijacked by Leslie Lynch
  32. Unholy Bonds by Leslie Lynch
  33. Opal’s Jubilee by Leslie Lynch
  34. A Christmas Hope by Leslie Lynch
  35. When Mike Kissed Emma by Christine Marciniak, YA.
  36. Reality Ali by Christine Marciniak, YA.
  37. Lights, Camera, Ali by Christine Marciniak, YA.
  38. Honestly, Ali! by Christine Marciniak. YA.
  39. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  40. Fatal Rhythm by R. B. O’Gorman
  41. Finding Grace by Laura Pearl
  42. Erin’s Ring by Laura Pearl. YA.
  43. Hush Hush by Michelle Quigley
  44. O Little Town by Don Reid
  45. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  46. Best Wishes, Sister B by Fran Smith
  47. Bird Face by Cynthia T. Toney. YA.
  48. Digital Me by J.M. Varner. YA.
  49. Mister Teacher Person by J.M. Varner. YA.
  50. Breathing On Her Own by Rebecca Williams Waters

The Suspense Will Kill You

stealing jenny photo endorsementClear your calendar before reading this book.

Seriously. Once you start, you won’t want to have to put it down.

Last week at the Catholic Writers Guild meeting, I had the pleasure of meeting the author (and publisher) of Stealing Jenny. Ellen Gable is as generous with hugs as she is with advice to aspiring authors, and this novel (her best one yet, in this reader’s opinion) shows that she is also masterful at creating suspense.

I’ve enjoyed Ellen’s other novels:  In Name Only and Emily’s Hope–and I look forward to her upcoming book A Subtle Grace, scheduled for publication late this year.

But it’ll be tough to top this one. I’ll go a little sensational with my synopsis, because this story really does sound like it could be the Big Story on Action News, Ripped From the Headlines and all of that.

A young mother with a history of complicated pregnancies anticipates the birth of her child–but so does her neighbor, who harbors a deep grudge and plots to separate her, and her baby, from her happy family.

I don’t generally go for mystery, crime or suspense novels, but this one had me hooked.

(photo credit:  Little Brother. Do you know how many pictures he had to take before he got one without a blurry title? The kid is a perpetual motion machine–a bad quality in a photographer.)