#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: Blue-Eyed Doll

Did you think that the custom of classroom pen-pal letter exchanges and sending “Flat Stanley” on trips around the world made its educational debut in the 21st century? Deanna Klingel’s novel Blue-Eyed Doll tells the story of a very unique cultural exchange that took place 90 years ago!

blue eyed doll

This fascinating historical novel 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 Ruth Mary, the gutsy main character–she’s terrific.

The novel begins with feisty Ruth Mary, an eight-year-old, bargaining with her father for the chance to participate in the classroom doll exchange. Her siblings find clever ways to help Ruth Mary succeed in her mission, and many surprises result after the choice of a unique doll wearing eyeglasses.

While I was well aware of the prejudice, imprisonment and other hardships faced by Japanese-Americans during World War II, I had no idea that Asian-Americans in the Western US experienced similar bigotry two decades before the war began. This is an aspect of American history of which I knew virtually nothing. Deanna Klingel, in this novel, explores the general mistrust of all things Japanese that was a hallmark of life in the western states at that time, and one missionary’s attempt to foster friendship and peace.

Readers will be intrigued to learn how prevalent the religious influence was in the public schools and public life of our nation in the 1920s. The author leads the reader on a journey into a time period not so distant from our own, but a very different one.

Blue-Eyed Doll is appropriate for middle-school students and up, and would be a fine classroom read-aloud for students in third grade and up. Don’t dismiss it as “just for kids,” though! Grown-up readers will enjoy it as well; in fact, the author recently read the entire novel to the residents of a nursing home (read about that on Deanna Klingel’s blog!)

Monday Recap: February 2016

At CatholicMom.com

Lent-2016-CRS-Rice-Bowl-and-CM-Meatless-Fridays-702x336Meatless Fridays with CRS Rice Bowl: Rice and Lentil Mash

This Lent, CatholicMom.com is partnering with CRS Rice Bowl in a special way, sharing the CRS Rice Bowl featured recipes on each Lenten Friday. I sampled Rice and Lentil Mash, a recipe from Laos.

touched by an angel box setNow on DVD: a TV Series that Proclaims God’s Mercy and Love

I reviewed the Touched By an Angel Complete Series boxed set of DVDs, a program with a message of mercy that’s needed even more now than when the show first aired.

 

 

bread upon the waterBook Notes: Bread Upon the Water

I reviewed Bread Upon the Water, a story of perseverance that was written for the young adult audience but which will inspire adults as well.

 

 

 

Magnificat Lenten Companion app collageTech Talk: Magnificat Lenten Companion App

If you prefer to use a digital resource for your Lenten prayer and meditation, you’ll definitely want to explore the Magnificat Lenten Companion app for iOS. I examined its many features in my monthly Tech Talk column.

 

Inheritance album artRejoicing in the Dark Places: Inheritance by Audrey Assad

Praising God when you can’t see the light? Amazingly, it helps more than you might think! The music on Audrey Assad’s new CD, Inheritance, is a gentle reminder that we’re not in this alone.

 

3 Bean Chili Mac small T CMeatless Friday: 3-Bean Chili Mac

My recipe for meatless Chili Mac is Snow Day food at its best: it’s warm, tasty and fills you up. You probably already have all the ingredients in your pantry!

Kiss of JesusBook Notes: The Kiss of Jesus

Catholicmom contributor Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle has written a memoir that views suffering through the lens of faith. I reviewed “The Kiss of Jesus: How Mother Teresa and the Saints Helped Me to Discover the Beauty of the Cross.”

At Cook and Count

sesame chicken tenders (2)Sesame Chicken Tenders: Crispy chicken tenders are always a family favorite. These no-fry chicken tenders get a little extra crunch from the sesame seeds, but don’t dry out in the oven thanks to a sour-cream-based marinade.

gnocchi e fagioli 2Gnocchi e Fagioli: Here’s a meatless dish that comes together in about 20 minutes! It’s easy to make and very heart-healthy. You won’t even miss the meat in this simple meal. Add other quick-cooking fresh vegetables to change up the flavor.

 

 

 

lazy duchess (2) cCooking with Kids – Lazy Duchess Potatoes: These potatoes might not look fancy, but they’re fun for kids to make and an easy way to use up your leftover mashed potatoes.

 

Blueprint- Crumb Crusted ChickenBlueprint Recipe – Crumb Crusted Chicken: This 3-ingredient “blueprint recipe” is a favorite around here and easy to change up by swapping in different varieties of one ingredient!

 

 

maple brown sugar chicken C (2)Maple – Brown Sugar Chicken Thighs: The sauce on this chicken has a subtle sweetness. While the recipe’s a little more complex than my usual cooking repertoire (because I’m lazy), this is definitely worth the extra effort. It goes with any of your favorite side dishes.

honey lime fish fillets with spinach garlic bow tiesMeatless Friday – Honey-Lime Fish Fillets: Fish fillets are an easy way to make a Meatless Friday meal. Try this simple and flavorful dish!

At Dynamic Women of Faith

Book Review: 3 New Lenten Resources from Ave Maria Press

Book Review: A Single Bead by Stephanie Engelman

Book Review: The Kiss of Jesus by Donna Marie Cooper-O’Boyle

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Cracks in the Ice

Barb's Book shelf blog title

Here’s a novel that crosses YA/adult book lines; it’s great to share with a high-school student, but adults will enjoy it as well: Cracks in the Ice by Deanna Klingel.

cracks in the iceThis young-adult novel ambitiously covers about 30 years in the lives of a mother and daughter. The author was best when writing in the voice of a young teenage girl. The novel deals with a young figure skater who’s the niece of an organized-crime boss–and how her life unravels as a result. Excellent faith angle and treatment of addiction and recovery.

Having grown up admiring Olympic figure skaters from afar, I enjoyed the look inside the world of skating.

You can learn more about author Deanna Klingel at her blog, Books by Deanna, or her author page on Facebook. She has written historical YA novels as well as this contemporary one! I met Deanna this summer at the Catholic Writers Guild Conference and enjoyed hearing about her various projects; her books have covered the Civil War Era, Vietnamese refugees, and World War II-era Lithuania, among other settings.

If there’s a teenage girl on your Christmas gift list, this novel would make a great present!

Your purchase of Cracks in the Ice through my affiliate link helps support Franciscanmom.com but costs you nothing extra.

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.

showusyourlistlogo

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