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:


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)


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 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!

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What You Need, Right When You Need It

Providence. That’s when God gives you what you need, right when you need it.

I’ve had a few experiences of providence recently, and it’s an amazing thing.

Sometimes it happens in unexpected places.

Last Friday afternoon, I had a lot of work to do. I was already tired, and I just couldn’t write a coherent sentence, never mind a feature-length magazine article. So I set it aside and decided to read for a little while.

My current read was An Unexpected Role by Leslea Wahl. After reviewing her other novel, The Perfect Blindside, I preordered this one as soon as I heard about it–and it had conveniently been delivered to my Kindle.


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.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m extra-tired, I’m extra-vulnerable. I was having those “I don’t fit in” moments myself: the kind where my mind runs nonstop through the long list of ways I’m different from just about everyone else I see (hair, makeup, fashion and wine are always at the top of the list.)

Right after I began reading, TheKid texted me to ask me to pick him up at dismissal, because he wasn’t feeling well. If I left right then, I’d be in prime position in the parking lot to get out of there quickly after the bell rang. So I jumped into the car and headed over to school, Kindle in hand, because I’d be sitting in the parking lot for 10 minutes.

And right there, in a YA novel, I was hit between the eyes with something I needed to be told:

“You need to spend as much time as possible with the people who make you feel comfortable–the ones you can safely share your dreams, secrets and problems with. . . .Help others. When you help those less fortunate, you start to see what’s important and you don’t have the time or need to pretend to be something else.” (Loc 2711-2717 in Kindle version)

This is my every day. I can’t figure out how to fit in–never could. This advice–words from one teenager to another–applies just as much to me, at age 51, as it does to the main character in Wahl’s novel.

I should have been writing, not reading.

I should have been reading something off the stack of books I’ve promised to review.

But I was reading that book, at that moment.


Copyright 2016 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS.


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

On Barb’s Bookshelf: The Perfect Blindside

I dare you to read The Perfect Blindside without imagining how great it would be as a movie.

Review of "The Perfect Blindside" at

Anyone who knows me is amazed I’d say something like that, because I never like movies based on books–and I hardly ever see movies. But this mystery novel for teens is just begging to be depicted on the big screen.

Told from dual points of view, The Perfect Blindside 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.

Jake and Sophie become an unlikely pair as they puzzle over suspicious occurrences in the town of Silver Springs, Colorado. Is the deputy sheriff up to something nefarious, or is he just a greedy cop who just pushes the limits of abusing his power, harassing teenagers with speeding tickets and finagling free coffee and pastry from Main Street merchants? What’s killing the local wildlife? Who slashed the tires on Jake’s Jeep while he hiked on the mountain? And did that joint the deputy found in Jake’s glove compartment really belong to someone else?

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.

The Perfect Blindside is published by Pauline Teen. I recommend it for readers in 8th grade and beyond.

The fine print: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purposes of this review. Opinions expressed here are mine alone. All Amazon links to the book in this post are affiliate links; your purchase of any items through these links help support my website. Thank you!

Barb's Book shelf blog title