"An Open Book" linkup hosted at CarolynAstfalk.com and CatholicMom.com

#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:


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.


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!

open book new logo



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.

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: The Kiss of Jesus

Barb's Book shelf blog title

While Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s memoir, The Kiss of Jesus, tells the story of great suffering, the reader is left to focus not on the suffering itself but instead on how Donna-Marie was drawn closer and closer to God, even in situations dire enough to cause anyone to lose hope.

Kiss of JesusOften we see celebrities on TV and make assumptions about their lives, as if they must have lived some sort of charmed existence to get to the fame they enjoy. Maybe that does happen for some people. But if you see Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle on EWTN and hear her gentle voice, know that the deep faith that’s written all over her face was refined through suffering, and that her gentle voice belies a great reserve of inner strength.

Subtitled “How Mother Teresa and the Saints Helped Me to Discover the Beauty of the Cross,” this honest memoir views Donna-Marie’s suffering through the lens of faith. She shares the deep influence of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta on her life. This influence helped her to learn of the transformative power of suffering.

“Suffering is the sharing in the Passion of Christ. Suffering is the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close to Jesus on the Cross that He can kiss you.” (Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, quoted on p. 121)

Donna-Marie’s suffering has led her to serve many through her writing, TV appearances, and simple witness. Her life story will inspire you to embrace your own trials and use the virtues they help you to develop in the service of God.

“Holiness is not the luxury of a few,” Mother Teresa would say, “but a simple duty for you and me.” (p. 140)


Buy this book through my Amazon link to support Franciscanmom.com!

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Lenten Resources from Ave Maria Press

Lent sure is sneaking up on me this year; it comes very early! Ash Wednesday is next week, February 10. Here are a few excellent resources for personal and family devotions, brought to you by Ave Maria Press.

sacred reading lent 2016Sacred Reading for Lent 2016, from the Apostleship of Prayer, is a pocket- or purse-sized version of the full-year edition of Sacred Reading, reviewed here. It runs from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday and contains the Gospel for the day, followed by prayer prompts in the Lectio Divina prayer method. Down-to-earth and simple to use, this book takes the mystery out of this prayer process. It’s priced at only $1.75–a bargain, considering all that is contained in the book.



stations of the cross with the eucharistic heart of jesusStations of the Cross with the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus by William Prospero, S.J., is a unique take on the age-old Lenten devotion. I know many people who pray this devotion year-round, and these meditations can be used in either private prayer or a group Stations of the Cross prayer service. The meditations include quotes from Scripture and the Saints, and are focused on the Eucharist, bringing home the truth of Jesus’ bodily sacrifice on the Cross and in the Eucharist. This book sells for $5.95.

bringing lent home with pope francisBringing Lent Home with Pope Francis: Prayers, Reflections and Activities for Families by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle is the Lenten resource I needed when my kids were younger! It’s ideal for families with school-age children and could be used in elementary-school classrooms as well as in the home. For each day of Lent, this book contains:

  • a quote from Pope Francis (from homilies, General Audiences, letters and addresses, and even Twitter)
  • a Parent Reflection to ponder in advance of praying together as a family
  • a short Family Prayer to pray together (this would work well at the breakfast table)
  • a short story from Pope Francis’ life
  • suggestions for fasting and almsgiving, focused on Pope Francis’ exhortation to keep mercy in mind
  • a concluding prayer, including a special intention and a full-day focus

The Parent Reflections in this book are classic Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle: quietly encouraging and deeply faithful. Throughout the book, the fasting and almsgiving prompts are often accompanied with concrete ways to help both children and adults achieve those spiritual goals.

This book is not tied to the 2016 calendar, so the purchase price of $3.50 is a true bargain for a prayer book that can be used in Lenten seasons for years to come.

Buy these books through my Amazon links to support Franciscanmom.com!

I received review copies of these books from the publisher, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.