#OpenBook: February 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

vanishedVanished (The Memoirs of Jane_E, Friendless Orphan, book 3) by Erin McCole Cupp. Easily my favorite of the three books in the series, Vanished brings the near-future dystopian retelling of Jane Eyre to a satisfying conclusion. Author Erin McCole Cupp’s fine attention to technical details creates a world that, chillingly, could be nearer than we’d think. More so than in the other books, Jane_E’s need to live with integrity is the driving force in the story.

intermissionIntermission by Serena Chase. Faith’s mother continually tries to squash her Broadway dreams for a more practical profession, accusing Faith of flightiness and bad behavior even as she ignores worse behavior from Faith’s older sister. Faith’s budding romance with a slightly-older actor with similar musical-theatre dreams leads her mother to forbid the two to have any contact. Faith impatiently waits until Noah completes a 2-year program of study overseas, but as she’s unable to get in touch with Noah, she has no idea if he will return to her. This YA romance novel has a strong, but not overbearing, Christian element. Some characters openly evaluate their own behavior according to godly standards, and the subject of chastity, purity and reputation are openly discussed and central to the story. The suspense in this novel is its greatest asset. Chase admirably moves the plot along, while bringing the reader to tears–and sometimes to anger–over the events taking place. Highly recommended for high-school students.

mothers-promiseThe Mother’s Promise by Sally Hepworth. This book will absolutely tear you apart emotionally. Alice fiercely protects her daughter, Zoe, who suffers from severe social anxiety. When Alice is diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer, the two are forced to leave their insular world and take radical steps out of their comfort zones, finding support from a nurse, a social worker and a high-school boy, all of whom face their own secret challenges. Bring tissues, but don’t skip it. (Netgalley)

hope-chestThe Hope Chest by Viola Shipman. Such a sweet story with absolutely lovable characters, in a town you’ll want to move into. Single-mom Rose finds work caring for Mattie, an ALS patient. Rose and young daughter Jeri find their way into Mattie’s heart, as well as her husband Don’s. Together they all learn to face death by focusing on hope: specifically, the various treasures found in Mattie’s long-neglected hope chest. (Netgalley)

 

wedding-in-truhartA Wedding in Truhart by Cynthia Tennent. Annie has to plan a wedding suitable for her TV-news-star sister and all the Atlanta society folk traveling to humble Truhart, Michigan for the festivities. This novel is all about appearances and what really matters. The love story between Annie and her old crush, Nick, is the main part of the novel. 2 unnecessarily-graphic sex scenes.

 

 

close-enough-to-touchClose Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley. Imagine being allergic to the human touch. Jubilee has lived most of her life unable to touch or be touched by others. Now that her mother has died, she must find a way to support herself. She nearly dies after giving in to instinct, jumping into a river to save a drowning child and resuscitating him. She falls for the child’s dad–and he for her–but cannot bring herself to tell him why she keeps him at arm’s length. (Netgalley)

heavenawaitsfrontcover-768x1152Heaven Awaits by Shannon Claire Morelli. Emily McDougal’s purchase of her first home sets off a chain of events leading to friendship with a neighbor old enough to be her mother, a new romance, and renewed commitment to her Catholic faith. But both she and Tim bear old wounds from past relationships, and Tim has other discerning to do as well. A sweet novel of new beginnings and healing past hurts.

Nonfiction

PrintSaint Junípero Serra’s Camino: A Pilgrimage Guide to the California Missions by Stephen J. Binz. (Franciscan Media) An impressively comprehensive guidebook of the 21 California missions featuring a short biography of St. Junípero Serra, a look at the colonial and missionary climate of the 18th century, and separate chapters for each mission. Readers are invited to take walking, driving or virtual pilgrimages in which they learn the history of each mission site, examine its architecture, discover its patron saint and engage in prayer. Lack of color photos is my only negative about this book. (ARC received from publisher)

country-betweenA Country Between: Making a Home where Two Sides of Jerusalem Collide by Stephanie Saldana. Several years in the life of a woman who lives in an intentionally non-intentional way. She appears driven by whim rather than purpose. The memoir begins at her arrival at a monastery in Syria, where she falls in love with a young French monk; he eventually leaves the monastery to marry her. They settle in a war-torn corner of Jerusalem, arriving at an apartment as the result of a seemingly-random sequence of events, and she decides it’s imperative to have a child after a traumatic incident on the street. I can’t understand her insistence on continuing to live and raise her children in a war zone when she clearly has opportunities to live elsewhere. The writing is poetic and evocative.(Netgalley)

meeting-god-in-the-upper-roomMeeting God in the Upper Room: Three Moments to Change Your Life by Msgr. Peter J. Vaghi (Franciscan Media). Msgr. Varghi’s discussion of the history of the Upper Room based on Gospel accounts complements the meditations that are the meat of this book. I found the history fascinating; in various chapters, you’ll read about personalities, prophecy, sacraments, and Catholic social teaching. Each chapter ends with a section titled “Preparing Your Upper Room” in which the reader is invited to consider the personal implications of Jesus’ message. Read my full review. (ARC received from 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!

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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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!

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On Barb’s Bookshelf: Image and Likeness

I used to avoid the short-story genre because short fiction always leaves me hungry for more.

The short stories and poetry in Image and Likeness, an anthology of literary reflections on the Theology of the Body, are no exception to that trend. In fact, I emailed editors Erin McCole Cupp and Ellen Gable when I was only about 30% done with the book to let them know this. I want more from these authors.

Fortunately, the contributing writers have plenty of novels, short fiction and even poetry to offer. I’m very familiar with the novels by some of these authors, but others are new to me, and I’ll happily dive into their other work.

image-and-likeness

So 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. Editor Erin McCole Cupp observes,

IAL is a fresh approach to St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, placing the naked truth of this saint’s teachings on the meaning of human substance in the illustrating light of literature, through both short stories and poetry.

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.

Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body will not only bring you to tears occasionally, it will make you think. There’s no preaching, no hammering the reader over the head with the Truth, but the Truth is all over these stories.

The Kindle edition of the 202-page anthology is available today for $4.99. It’s worth every penny.

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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 by the publisher, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Nameless

Did you read Jane Eyre in high school, like I did, and conclude that it’s a snoozer?

That’s not the case with Erin McCole Cupp’s futuristic sendup of the story. It’s divided into three parts, each novel-length on its own (but you definitely need to read the series in order), and reading this series will keep you up at night.

Nameless, the second novel in The Memoirs of Jane E, Friendless Orphan series, releases today!

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As the author indicated when the first book in the series was released, this series is a re-release of a novel written ten years ago. Pay close attention to the technology as you read; more and more of it is a reality now–or will be soon! The e-reader is foreshadowed in this series, smart houses are definitely a thing, and items such as perks rings appear to be coming down the pike.

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.

Author Erin McCole Cupp estimates that the final installment in the series will be released in early December, so you won’t have to wait too long for that cliffhanger to resolve!

Read my review of Unclaimed, the first novel in the series. You need to read that book first anyway!

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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.

The fine print: Amazon links in this post are affiliate links. Your purchase through these affiliate links helps to support this website. Thank you! I was given an advance copy of this novel for the purposes of my review, but no other compensation, and all opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Unclaimed

Tired of the same old beach reads already this summer? Why not step out of your comfort zone and try a book that’s like nothing you’ve ever read before?

Jane EyerFinal-FJM_High_Res_1800x2700

Unclaimed, a dystopian spin on Jane Eyre, transports the reader into a world that, disturbingly, seems just around the corner. I was captivated by Jane E’s boldness and resilience as she navigated the challenging circumstances of living with a genetic defect in a designer-gene world. Erin McCole Cupp’s novel is a blend of three genres I rarely read (19th-century novel, dystopian fiction and fanfic) and it’s definitely a combo that works.

Unclaimed is the first of three novellas in the “Jane_E” series; the next installment is scheduled for release in early October.

I read this book before the cover design was released, and I’m beyond impressed at how well the design complements the story.

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A QUICK INTERVIEW with Erin McCole Cupp, author of Unclaimed: The Memoirs of Jane E, Friendless Orphan (Book 1)

 
Q: So what made you think you could get away with rewriting Jane Eyre?
 
EMC: I never expected to get away with it! I think of it as more of a translation than a rewrite, anyway, and when you’re reading a translation, you must always keep in mind that it is but a pale image of the original.  At any rate, way back in Y2K, I had spent the first part of the year reading a steady diet of William Gibson, Neal Stephenson and Bruce Sterling–the revered trifecta of the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction.  When our summer vacation came around, I decided I’d take a vacation from reading for professional development as an aspiring SF writer and bought a bunch of books from the literary classics bargain bin at a boardwalk bookshop.  A few chapters into Jane Eyre, my mind kept throwing up these weird parallels between the character of Helen Burns as Jane’s spirit guide and the character of Molly as Case’s spirit guide in Gibson’s Neuromancer. I remember thinking, “Wow, Jane Eyre would’ve made great cyberpunk.” [beat] “Oh, crap, now I have to write it!”  
 
Q:  That was sixteen years ago, and the first edition of Jane_E dropped a decade ago. What made you decide to revisit your first novel and rerelease it electronically? 
 
EMC: I just think (“hope” might be a better word) that the audience might be ready for it a bit more now compared to ten years ago.  I’d already been thinking of re-releasing it as a single book and getting a fresh cover, having it available in hard copy as well as electronic format.  However… it’s a long book when taken all in one slice! Jane’s story (mine as well as the Bronte version) also divides itself naturally into three parts: her early years, her developing relationship with her employer, and then everything that happens after that relationship catches fire, for lack of a better term (and those of you who’ve read Jane Eyre know of which I speak).  I figured that by breaking it down into smaller portions, a reader could take a chance on Book 1 (Unclaimed) without the commitment to some giant tome.  Of course if you want the giant tome, that’s still available.        
 
Q: So when do the next two books come out?  
 
EMC:  I’m looking at October 7 for Nameless (Book 2)  and December 6 for Runaway.  
 
Q: Why make us wait so long?!
 
EMC: Because I’m mean.  Ha!  Actually, there’s the cover art to take care of, thanks to Fiona Jayde Media.  I also wanted to give the text a little extra polish that may have gotten lost in the initial editing, which was done when I had infant twins.  I’m working with Rebecca Willen over at Our Hearts are Restless, and she’s great–reasonable, thorough, no-nonsense–but I’m also letting those aforementioned twins (now 12 and homeschooled) provide an additional level of copyediting.  
 
Q: What’s that like, letting your children correct your work?
 
EMC:  You mean, besides the weird factor of letting them read something on the edgy side that came out of my brain before they were even born?  Actually, it’s a lot less stressful than I thought it would be.  It’s a good way to model humility, really.  I mean, I’m the one always correcting their work, and now I’m letting them turn the tables.  I think it’s good for all three of us.   
 
Q: Any other projects in the works?  
 
EMC:  Always!  Besides the Jane E series, I’m a contributor to The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion, which is available on pre-order for an August 29th release.  I’m also working with Ellen Gable of Full Quiver Publishing on an anthology of Theology of the Body fiction and poetry tentatively titled Image and Likeness.  That’s exciting, working with so many talented authors, and that’s scheduled for a October 22 release.  Finally, I’m still pecking away at the first draft of the sequel to my murder mystery Don’t You Forget About Me.  

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.

Endometriosis Awareness Week

It’s Endometriosis Awareness Week and my friend Erin McCole Cupp is sharing my story of endometriosis and secondary infertility at her blog as part of a weeklong series. Check it out!

"Panda" by George Lu (2011) via Flickr, CC BY 2.0. Text added by author.
“Panda” by George Lu (2011) via Flickr, CC BY 2.0. Text added by author.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: 3 Great Christmas Reads

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Because Christmas is a season, not just a day, you don’t have to put away the Christmas novels and stories after December 25. Reading books set at Christmas is a great way to keep the season going. Here are 3 books by Catholic authors–I’ve enjoyed them all. The first two are historical fiction, the third a contemporary novella.

working motherWorking Mother by Erin McCole Cupp is a well-researched piece of short fiction in which the Holy Family, in exile in Egypt after King Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, faces a crisis after Joseph is injured at work. Living hand-to-mouth in a refugee camp, Mary seizes an opportunity to help support her family while Joseph recovers from his injury. This story speaks to the devotion of the Blessed Mother for her son and for her husband. Read my full review here.

 

diaries of joseph and maryThe Diaries of Joseph and Mary by Dennis P. McGeehan invites the reader to journey with Mary and Joseph from their early childhoods until Jesus sets out for his baptism at the hands of his cousin. These fictional diaries allow the reader to peek into the minds and hearts of Jesus’ mother and foster father. Read my full review here.

 

 

boys upstairsThe Boys Upstairs by Jane Lebak is an uplifting Christmas tale of transformation for two brothers: a priest who’s a disabled war veteran and who takes in boys who are living on the streets and a police officer who’s seen more than his share of holiday tragedies. Their own rough start in life leads them to find ways to be strong for others in crisis.

Use my Amazon links to purchase these books and support Franciscanmom.com.

Monday Recap July 27, 2015

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Thanks to the magic of prescheduling, I was able to attend the Catholic Writers Guild Conference last week–and leave my computer behind! There were many people to meet and lots of knowledge to absorb.

Guest Blogging

PandaClub-baseFor NFP Week, I was a guest blogger at Erin McCole-Cupp’s Will Write for Tomato Pie in her “Captive Panda” series. What’s a Captive Panda? Go on over and find out. I’ve met 3 out of 4 authors from that series (and am well-acquainted with the last one, as we work together at 2 different websites.) Thanks, Erin, for hosting this important discussion.

At Cook and Count

Tiny Potatoes with Parsley title cJust one recipe this week, and it’s for one of my very favorite side dishes: Tiny Potatoes with Parsley.

At CatholicMom.com

casting the first stone coverI reviewed Casting the First Stone by Lisa Lawmaster Hess, a fellow CatholicMom.com contributor who’s also a Jersey girl. She’s working on the sequel (I peeked. It’s good stuff!) This novel questions whether anyone can actually “win” in a child-custody battle.

 

I was a Captive Panda: my subfertility story

This is NFP Awareness Week, and my friend Erin McCole-Cupp is hosting a series on NFP and subfertility on her blog. She asked me to share my story of NFP, endometriosis, and subfertility.

"Panda" by George Lu (2011) via Flickr, CC BY 2.0. Text added by author.
“Panda” by George Lu (2011) via Flickr, CC BY 2.0. Text added by author.

Pandas in captivity are notorious for their infrequent ability to conceive. They can conceive, but their fertility is compromised. I experienced subfertility for several years, and my use of NFP (and persistence in searching for a doctor who would take me seriously) finally helped me learn what was at the root of the problem.

Read my story of NFP, endometriosis and subfertility here.

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#WorthRevisit: Erin McCole-Cupp’s Murder Mystery

For today’s look back at an old favorite, I’m linking to a guest post by Erin McCole-Cupp after the publication of her murder mystery novel, Don’t You Forget About Me.

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Erin and I have more in common than a shared love of great books and tomato pie:

  • we both have 3 children

  • we’re both members of Third Orders (she’s a Dominican)

  • we both love reading and writing

  • we both have endometriosis.

Erin found inspiration for a novel in this “silent” disease. Here’s her story.

Erin’s novel is on sale for 99 cents through Friday, so if you haven’t read it yet, now’s your chance to get a bargain on a great beach read! Mixing up Italian food, ’80s music, medicine and murder, this mystery novel had me hooked with its suburban-Philly locale and ’80s pop hits used as chapter titles. The characters seemed real, and the medical angle kept me interested.

When you purchase Don’t You Forget About Me through my Amazon affiliate link, you help keep me in Kindle novels help me with my website expenses–at no extra cost to you!

Link up at #WorthRevisit, hosted by Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb!