On Location: 2 Catholic Novels with Unusual Settings

Location, location, location: the Realtor’s motto might belong to authors as well. Two new novels published this season feature unusual settings. In both books, the main character lives in an out-of-the-ordinary place that figures prominently in the story.

Michael D. O’Brien’s The Lighthouse (Ignatius Press) is a beautifully written literary novel about a man without any family who becomes a lighthouse keeper in a remote area of Nova Scotia: on a tiny island off eastern Cape Breton Island (that’s three layers of islands if you’re keeping track). He can go weeks, or even months in winter, without seeing or speaking to a single soul. It’s mentioned that he suffered a painful childhood and was on his own by his mid-teens, so solitude is not a burden for him. 

But little by little, he opens up to some of the people who find their way to the island and some who live in the nearby town where he purchases groceries and other supplies. And as the years pass, he finds unexpected connections with some of them, and develops unexpected artistic talents that fulfill his unspoken need for the family he lacks.

I was privileged to read The Lighthouse while on vacation at the beach, and the background music of the waves and shore birds made me feel as if I were right there on Ethan McQuarry’s tiny island.

Because it’s always a good time to read a Christmas novel, Paraclete Press is releasing John Gray’s Manchester Christmas on November 10. Chase, a young writer looking for her next big story and a fresh start in New England, winds up in Vermont just after Thanksgiving and moves into a former church that has been converted into a private home. 

The stained-glass windows, all that remain of St. Pius Church’s original furnishings and features (because they could not be safely removed), appear to change every now and again, alerting Chase to dangerous situations to come. Immediately adopted by the community and catching the eye of a local farmer, Chase gets involved in Christmas festivities and hopes to bring an end to a painful chapter in Manchester’s past.

Manchester Christmas is a fun story, perfect for those times when you like a happy ending that brings a tear to your eye and a smile to your face.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz.
This article contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: The Catholic All Year Compendium

Four Novembers ago I was a substitute teacher, in a long-term placement with the second grade. Since it was a Catholic school, I began the first November school day with the announcement, “November is the Month of the Holy Souls. We pray for them to help them get into heaven.”

And a student replied, all seriousness: “I thought November is Men’s Cancer Month …”

If you’ve ever wondered why we Catholics don’t make as much of our various feast days and liturgical seasons as the secular world makes of National Talk Like a Pirate Day, Kendra Tierney of CatholicAllYear.com has a new book that will help you learn to live out the liturgical year with your family (or your students): The Catholic All Year Compendium.

catholic all year

New from Ignatius Press, The Catholic All Year Compendium puts all the liturgical-living information you need into one book. You won’t have to dig through the free calendar you pick up at church, five websites, and four books about the lives of the saints to find some ways to observe the Church’s feasts, fasts, and everything in between — and make them work for your family.

When my kids were younger (and it may well have been when there were only two of them) I did all that digging. I made sure we ate Mexican food on December 9 to celebrate then-blessed Juan Diego. I served (canned) cinnamon rolls on the feast of St. Lucy. We blessed our home with holy water and wrote “K+M+B” and the year above the front door every Epiphany. I still load one shoe per family member with treats and little gifts on St. Nicholas’ feast, December 6, and I’ve even got the box packed so my adult son, who now lives two time zones away, can enjoy some treats too.

Clearly, I celebrate feasts with food — that’s my love language. I’m not so great at decorating, and I’m grateful that my young-adult daughter has mostly taken that task over. Crafts? No way. But whether your talents lie in cooking, baking, decorating, or creating, Tierney provides ideas you can use to celebrate your faith all year long.

The introduction, titled “Liturgical Living for Life,” explains how you can make the liturgical year your own. That does not mean playing fast and loose with the Church calendar. It means taking that calendar and starting where you are to “bring a bit of the tradition of our beautiful faith into your home” (15). Use what you have (or can easily get).

The main part of the book is organized by season, beginning (of course) with Advent and going right on through Ordinary Time After Pentecost. Nearly 300 pages of saints’ stories, family stories, menu and craft suggestions, and ideas for activities ensure that you’ll always be able to find something that will work for your family.

At the end of the book there are four appendices. Don’t skip these! They cover fasting and abstinence, indulgences, the canonization processes, and a quick-reference guide to the feasts in the book (I’m bookmarking that section). For example, for this coming Sunday (Christ the King Sunday) you’ll see this entry:

Last Sunday in Ordinary Time: Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (Sunday, solemnity, holy day of obligation) — Te Deum (plenary indulgence); chicken à la king, Bundt cake (page 309).

From there, you’ve got your basic praying and eating ideas, and you know where in the book to find more information. Some dates include activities such as an outdoor picnic, preparing a meal for a friend who is pregnant or has a new baby, or decorating the Christmas tree.

“Compendium” is such a satisfying, old-fashioned word. It evokes images of vintage books, antique recipe boxes overflowing with hand-written ingredient lists, and a slower-paced lifestyle. Your lifestyle might feel like anything but slow-paced. In recent years I’ve let the frenzy of having older kids who have places to be after dinner (jobs, rehearsals, sports practices or games) be my excuse for opting out of my liturgical-year menu planning. But The Catholic All Year Compendium has reminded me that celebrating the liturgical year in my domestic church doesn’t have to be expensive, time-consuming, or complicated. This Advent, I’m going to put in the extra effort to get back into the spirit of the season and of the individual saints’ days that fill the calendar at this time of year.

Barb's Book shelf blog title


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Ways to Keep Teens’ Faith Alive

Keeping Teens' Faith Alive

When you’ve invested over a decade in raising your child, you discover that as he enters his teen years, the way you need to nurture his faith changes drastically. This is the time when your child needs to begin to take over his own faith development, but it doesn’t mean you’re off the hook — or unnecessary.

Ignatius Press has released two books to help parents and teens in this stage: The Light Entrusted to You, for parents, and Humility Rules, for teens (though parents shouldn’t skip this one).

light entrusted to you

John R. Wood’s The Light Entrusted to You: Keeping the Flame of Faith Alive is a parent-to-parent guide to help you share Catholicism with your family by living Catholicism with your family. The author is not a theologian or professor: he’s an eye doctor and a parent who loves his children and his faith. The chapters are cleverly titled to form the acronym “SAINTS,” and the topics covered range from saints to Scripture to sports (yes, sports). A more-detailed table of contents or an index would be helpful in this book, but the information in the book is solid and Wood’s delivery is engaging.

Christ is our model. After His baptism He does not go to the beach to drink a piña colada. He goes to the desert to fast and do battle with the devil (see Mt 4). We must follow His lead and also teach our children to “do battle”. Much of our time parenting is simply training our children to overcome concupiscence, the tendency to do wrong because of original sin. It should be obvious that children often desire to do and have things that are not good for them. Imagine if we simply let our children do everything they wanted to do. They would probably end up either dead or in prison very early in life. We strive to teach them to live lives of virtue, and we all know it is a long journey that each of us continues his entire life. (25)

From the corporal and spiritual works of mercy to the great cathedrals to a synopsis of Old Testament events, Wood invites readers to dive deep into the deposit of the faith and nurture their own souls so that they can inspire their children.

humility rules

While you’re reading Wood’s book, hand Humility Rules: Saint Benedict’s 12-Step Guide to Genuine Self-Esteem to your teen or college student. Author J. Augustine Wetta, OSB, does not talk down to teens, but rather challenges them to engage with their faith as they grow in virtue. Self-esteem might seem like a dated buzzword, but Wetta demonstrates how it’s important, even virtuous, for teens to develop a healthy self-esteem.

Genuine self-esteem is a form of holiness, and holiness, in Saint Benedict’s eyes, is not about self-love but self-abandonment. In fact, the whole idea of holding yourself in high esteem would sound ridiculous to him. It would defeat the very purpose of the Christian life, which is to empty one’s self in order to make room for God’s grace. (18-19)

Wetta distills, from the Rule of Saint Benedict, 12 steps along the ladder of humility, and challenges his readers to climb that ladder.

Humility Rules would make an excellent Confirmation or graduation gift.

Barb's Book shelf blog title


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This article contains Amazon affiliate links.
I received review copies of these books, but no compensation, for my review. Opinions expressed here are my own.