#OpenBook: March 2020 Binge Reads

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The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently.

Here we are in the first weeks of pandemic social distancing, which means it’s a great time to binge read ALL THE BOOKS. Because distraction is sorely needed. When you can’t leave the house except for groceries, you can still escape into a novel.

Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:

Fiction

optimists guideThe Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go by Amy E. Reichert. A really enjoyable story about a young widow who’s struggling with her own grief and her middle-school daughter’s, when her very demanding, social-climbing mom suffers a stroke. In caring for her mom, Gina discovers a 40-year-old family secret that explains a lot — and demands even more explanation. Terrific read (and great advice on making terrific grilled cheese!). (Netgalley review)

 

what you wish forWhat You Wish For by Katherine Center. Galveston, TX school librarian Samantha’s new boss is the guy she had a crush on 4 years ago – but now he’s very different. No longer happy-go-lucky, Duncan is only concerned with school safety and seems bent on ridding the school of everything that brought joy to students and staff. A terrific romance and story of the varying effects of trauma on people of all ages. Great read. (Netgalley review; releases July 2020)

finding hopeFinding Hope by Shannon Symonds. When her mother disappears from their trailer, leaving teenager Hope behind with an abusive stepdad, Hope runs away and hides behind a cafe, ultimately making herself indispensable to the inexperienced grandmother who’s working as barista. The barista’s daughter, a social worker, risks her job to help Hope, while other homeless teens in the area get caught up in a sex-trafficking nightmare. Appropriate for older teens and adults.

admissionAdmission by Julie Buxbaum is probably not the book for you if your teenager is in the thick of college application process. Based on the college-admissions scandals of 2019, this novel follows the implosion of one family after a mom who can’t bear to see her daughter attend a non-top-tier school uses an admissions consultant who cheats on the SAT and falsifies an application to get the student into her dream school. There’s a lot of back-and-forth in time, as the author explores who knew what and when. All told from the perspective of the high-school student whose senior year – and family – were wrecked by these actions, this is a well-done take on a real-life news story. (Netgalley review; available May 2020)

BINGE THE SERIES! I read the last three of Amy Matayo’s 4-book Love in Chaos series (I read the first installment back in the summer when it was originally released.) Read them in order for the best experience! These are all disaster suspense, which is kind of a good thing when you need to be reminded that there are people who have it worse than you do.

the waves

aftermath

last shot

reunion

The Waves: Dillon and Liam, both forced to go on a cruise with Dillon’s family, wind up stranded on a tiny deserted island after Dillon tries to escape her family and goes on an impromptu excursion. The two must find ways to survive as they wait and hope for rescue. Good suspense; a clean and sweet romance.

The Aftermath. Riley’s bakery (and some customers) are destroyed in a tornado, and while she tries to hold everything together, a small child wanders in, followed by Chad, who she immediately pushes away while she tries to fix everything on her own. My favorite of the series!

The Last Shot. The intense story of a shooting at a concert and its effects on the country-music star and the security guard who protected him during and after the incident. More than half of the book covers the several hours when singer Teddy and guard Jane hide away from the shooter.

The Reunion. Dillon’s mother is mother-zilla-of-the-bride, but the real wedding disaster happens when a freak snowstorm cripples the area, leaving her possibly without wedding cake and definitely without a venue. Brings together all the principal characters from the previous three books in a fun conclusion to the series.

 

Nonfiction

I was getting started on a very good new book, but I’m having trouble focusing on nonfiction at this point. This isn’t even a review copy — it’s a spiritual read I actually chose for myself, and it was supposed to be my Lenten inspiration. It’s not a long book, so maybe I’ll pick it back up for Holy Week.

let goLet Go: Seven Stumbling Blocks to Christian Discipleship by Casey Cole, OFM. From the blurb: Franciscan Casey Cole challenges us to let go of something more difficult than material wealth: expectations, anxiety, comfort, wounds, enemies, power—and our very selves. Speaking from both personal and pastoral experience, he outlines the stumbling blocks that turn us away from following Jesus as true disciples.

Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

Where noted, books are review copies. If that is not indicated, I either purchased the book myself or borrowed it from the library.

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 logo


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

An Open Book: Winter 2020 Reads

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently.

It’s been so long since I’ve done this; I haven’t kept up with my Goodreads account, and a couple of weeks ago I replaced my Kindle, so now I don’t have that handy-dandy record of ebooks I’ve read (I’m sure it’s available somewhere, but not as easy as swiping page by page through my catalog of books).

Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:

Fiction

The Rum RunnerThe Rum Runner by Christine Marciniak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Prohibition-era New Jersey, an immigrant with ties to the smuggling industry dies in a dockside turf war. Police officer Alice Grady wants to solve his mysterious death and help his widow and children. Fisherman Hank Chapman, also involved in smuggling, doesn’t want the police to investigate too closely, but he can’t deny his attraction to Alice. A fascinating and well researched tale of suspense.

Come Back to MeCome Back to Me by Carolyn Astfalk

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let me introduce you to the latest binge read from author Carolyn Astfalk. It’s easy to get swept up in Carolyn’s stories, because the characters are true and the dialogue will just carry you along. The male characters in Carolyn’s novels aren’t just one-dimensional caricatures — they’re people you could imagine meeting.
Kicked out of a marriage he’d kind of just fallen into, Alan finds himself bunking in with his brother Chris and wife Rebecca, who are expecting their first baby. Alan grapples with his own wish for children, his desire to reconcile with a wife who doesn’t seem to want anything to do with him, and unrelated job struggles. Complicating matters is his wife’s friend Megan, whose dissatisfaction with her own life choices puts her into an awkward situation with Alan.

A Channel of Your PeaceA Channel of Your Peace by Veronica Smallhorn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Warning: keep your box of tissues handy as you read this sweet story! Erin’s engagement is broken off after her live-in fiance confesses infidelity, and then she finds out she’s pregnant with his child. Her suffering leads her back to faith; it’s not an easy road, but she receives help and consolation in her suffering, both from Our Lady of Guadalupe and a martyr priest. Theology of the Body themes are woven throughout.

Welcome to Wishing Bridge (Wishing Bridge, #1)Welcome to Wishing Bridge by Ruth Logan Herne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pregnant and alone, Kelsey has a car accident in blinding snow that lands her in a town she’d hoped to avoid: her mother’s hometown. She’s sure the locals won’t want anything to do with her, considering her mother’s history of crime and substance abuse. But most of the town turns out to welcome her, as well as her two best friends, who’d grown up in foster care with Kelsey. A lovely story about a lovely town where I’d love to live!

At Home in Wishing Bridge (Wishing Bridge #2)At Home in Wishing Bridge by Ruth Logan Herne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thea, a nurse practitioner who’d lost her job just before her friend Kelsey’s accident, has begun working in Wishing Bridge’s understaffed medical practice. Ethan, the doctor temporarily assigned to the practice, has care of his orphaned niece and nephew and only wants to leave for Chicago to do medical research — but he knows that won’t be good move for the kids, and he’s starting to fall for Thea.
I was really hoping there’d be a Book 3 in this series.

The Book of Lost FriendsThe Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story, told in split time (1875 and 1987), explores the post-Civil-War struggles of former slaves as they attempted to make their way as free people with very limited opportunities in the South and reconnect with family members lost to the slave trade. A teacher in a small Southern town discovers a cache of classic books in an abandoned estate, and this leads her to educate her students about their local history — even when it didn’t make the locals look good. (Netgalley review)

If for Any ReasonIf for Any Reason by Courtney Walsh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An enjoyable story of transformation and reconciliation. Emily returns to Nantucket, where her family had summered until her mother died when Emily was 12. Her grandfather bequeathed the family’s summer home to Emily, who must restore the place before selling it. But her childhood neighbor is on the island too, right next door, with his own tween daughter and pain of a broken relationship.

Please See UsPlease See Us by Caitlin Mullen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A murder mystery set in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and based on a true story. Across the bay from AC, the bodies of several young women were found in a marsh behind a cheap motel. All had ties to the sex trade. Caitlin Mullen tells the story from the points of view of two of the young women, as well as a man who knows something about what’s happening, but can’t make his voice heard. I chose this book because I remembered the story from the news a few years ago. It’s a harrowing story, well told. Warning: sexual violence, other violence, graphic language. (Netgalley review)

YA/Children’s

Extreme Blindside by Leslea Wahl. Read my full review.

Earthquake WeatherEarthquake Weather by Kevin Rush

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A coming-of-age story about some young Filipino girls in the San Francisco Bay area; Kristine (age 13) knows her super-smart cousin Jamie’s boyfriend is involved in a gang, but Jamie needs Kristine’s help to see Raul secretly and fixes Kristine up with Fabio — which leads them all into a dangerous situation. I picked this book up when it was recommended in the #CatholicFictionChallenge on Instagram.

Nonfiction

I’ve reviewed the following nonfiction books this winter. Click through to my full reviews:

Living Memento Mori by Emily DeArdo

Giving Thanks and Letting Go by Danielle Bean

Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story by Nancy Ward

Pray Fully by Michele Faehnle and Emily Jaminet


Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

Where noted, books are review copies. If that is not indicated, I either purchased the book myself or borrowed it from the library.

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 logo


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: Fall 2019 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 in September and October:

Fiction

All in Good TimeAll in Good Time by Carolyn Astfalk

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Carolyn Astfalk’s novel is packed with relatable characters who aren’t too good to be true, and that’s refreshing in the world of romance novels, where everyone’s young, successful, and great-looking. These characters struggle, and their kids make messes, so it all feels true to life. Melanie, a widow with 3 little kids, meets Brian at her son’s baseball game. Brian has sworn off dating, but he changes his mind after spending some time with Melanie. But his long-kept secret threatens their relationship, and another threat brings danger to the couple as well as Melanie’s kids. A well-told clean romance with just the right amount of suspense — and a twist I didn’t see coming.

Big Lies in a Small TownBig Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Told in split time, this is the story of two artists, both of whom were helped in some way by a recently deceased famous artist. Morgan gets out of jail on parole on the condition that she restore a badly damaged mural in time for a gallery opening. She has a lot to do to put her life back together, but can’t help becoming intrigued by what she can find out about Anna, the mural’s original artist who added disturbing elements to the mural at the last minute. The author intertwines the stories beautifully, with just the right amount of plot twists and suspense. (Netgalley review)

SourdoughSourdough by Robin Sloan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you’ve ever baked with sourdough, this book will make sense. Lois, a Silicon Valley robot programmer in a soulless job, is given a sourdough starter when the immigrants who run a takeout business she patronizes return to Europe. As she learns how to bake with it, she discovers that this starter is alive in ways others are not — and this discovery turns her career on its head. Beautifully written.

The Overdue Life of Amy BylerThe Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An engaging cast of characters populates this novel about a school librarian whose almost-ex reappears after 3 years and wants back into her life. Given the opportunity to visit NY for a professional conference, she heads to the city on a journey of rediscovery.

Appalachian Serenade (Appalachian Blessings, #0.5)Appalachian Serenade by Sarah Loudin Thomas

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Delilah’s return to her hometown as a widow means the end of all her dreams to be a mother. As World War II comes to an end, she settles in the small West Virginia Town and finds a job at the local store, then discovers herself in an unexpected competition for the affections of the storekeeper. A sweet novella about two people suffering different kinds of grief.

The Union Street Bakery (Union Street Bakery #1)The Union Street Bakery by Mary Ellen Taylor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Daisy McCrae, newly unemployed, returns home to rescue her family’s bakery before the business fails, she discovers a few surprises: the ghosts in the attic, the ghost of an old relationship, and the journal she inherits from a former customer who holds the key to the truth about Daisy’s past. A good story, but wrapped up just a little too neatly.

The Schoolhouse: A Hickory Grove NovelThe Schoolhouse: A Hickory Grove Novel by Elizabeth Bromke

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An enjoyable, if totally farfetched, story of second chances. Becky returns to her hometown after nearly 20 years with no idea how she’ll support herself and send money to her son who, improbably, is a student at Notre Dame. Becky wants to purchase a tumbledown schoolhouse on her grandparents’ property and turn it into a bookstore — but has no capital for the project. Enter her high-school sweetheart, who works for the school district and is tasked with arranging for the demolition of that schoolhouse.

My Stubborn HeartMy Stubborn Heart by Becky Wade

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kate takes a sabbatical from her job, where she’s burnt out working in social services for at-risk kids, to help her grandmother restore an old family home and inventory its collection of antiques. Their contractor, a former hockey pro grieving the loss of his wife, seems attracted to her, but is always holding back. Grandma and her friends lend comic relief to the story with their matchmaking attempts. It’s a good read, if a shallow one (everyone’s gorgeous, the contractor is super rich, the old home is filled with ridiculously valuable antiques – none of it’s junk). Definitely falls into the “escape read” category.

Someplace Familiar (Laurel Cove Romance #1)Someplace Familiar by >Teresa Tysinger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Livy returns to her hometown to refurbish a family home and sell an impressive collection of antique furniture, she finds that her grandmother’s friends are busy trying to set her up with the contractor who’s restoring the house. She’s not looking for a relationship, and he’s a former hockey star grieving the loss of his wife. One of those romances where everyone’s successful, wealthy, thin, and gorgeous, but an enjoyable read.

Christmas (It’s never too early!)

The Christmas List (A Girl Called Hoodoo Book 1)The Christmas List by Hillary Ibarra

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nothing lifts the spirits like a Christmas novella, and this one by Hillary Ibarra is one of the best I’ve read. It’s the beautifully told tale, inspired by true events in the author’s life, of a hardworking couple who cannot afford groceries for their family, let alone a festive Christmas meal or gifts for the children. A badly-timed job loss has left the parents stressed, but they make every effort to make Christmas special for their family — and they learn that God does, indeed, care about them.

YA/Children’s

Ella's Promise (Great War Great Love #3)Ella’s Promise by Ellen Gable

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This standalone novel concludes the “Great War Great Love” series, and I’m sorry to see it end. As a whole, the series has been a fascinating look at a time period we don’t read about much. Ella Neumann, the daughter of Germans who emigrated to the USA long before the war, is a volunteer nurse in France. Having been a medical student at home before the war, she hopes her experience will land her a coveted place as a surgical nurse, but her supervisor doesn’t trust her because of her ethnic background, and gives her the least-desired jobs. Ella’s encounter with a prisoner of war and an enemy officer, coupled with her ability to speak German, put her in danger as well as allowing her to help others in unexpected ways. With edge-of-the-seat suspense, the story will captivate teen and adult readers alike. (Advance review copy received from author.)

Gifts: Visible & InvisibleGifts: Visible & Invisible by Susan Peek, Katy Huth Jones, Carolyn Astfalk, Theresa Linden, Leslea Wahl, Cynthia T. Toney, T.M. Gaouette, Corinna Turner, Cathy Gilmore

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

No cartoon characters “saving Christmas” by making sure presents happen, or mistletoe moments with less substance than a snowflake here. These 8 stories entertain and edify the young-adult reader and satisfy that Christmas craving for something more, which can only be fulfilled by Jesus. Each story stands alone, but many are connected to other work by the authors from Catholic Teen Books. (Advance Reader Copy provided by Catholic Teen Books)

Nonfiction

9781627853385

Woman of Worth: Prayers and Reflections for Women Inspired by the Book of Proverbs by Melanie Rigney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An encouraging book for women that underscores their value, no matter what their vocation, age, or state in life. Melanie discusses the virtues behind the ideal woman presented in Proverbs 31. In the Introduction, the author notes, “maybe it was progress that I thought my relationship with Jesus did make me a woman of worth.” In each of these 20 chapters, the author examines a verse or two from Proverbs 31, offering a personal reflection and meditation on the virtue, a brief profile of a saint who is a model of that virtue, three questions for discussion or personal journaling, and a prayer. (Advance review copy provided by author)

When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny PeopleWhen Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People by Jeannie Gaffigan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When you read When Life Gives You Pears, you can expect the medical details, the celebrity bio, and the funny. And you can also expect a powerful testimony of the role faith played in Jeannie Gaffigan’s life and in her recovery. In this book, she candidly shares it all: her fears; the details of her surgery, treatment, and recovery; how the whole experience impacted her outlook on the world; the role faith played in her life before, during, and after her illness.
(Review copy received from publisher)

61 Minutes to a Miracle: The True Story of a Family's Devotion61 Minutes to a Miracle: The True Story of a Family’s Devotion by Bonnie L. Engstrom

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Most people who pick up 61 Minutes to a Miracle already know how the story turns out. But the spoiler in the book’s title won’t ruin the experience of reading Bonnie Engstrom’s riveting story of the miracle that opened the door not only to life for her child but also to the beatification of Fulton J. Sheen.
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!

Where noted, books are review copies. If that is not indicated, I either purchased the book myself or borrowed it from the library.

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 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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#OpenBook: Summer 2019

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 this summer:

Fiction

BecalmedBecalmed by Normandie Fischer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tadie co-owns a successful business, is a jewelry artist in her own right, and has an historic home and a sailboat. She’s loving life, and falling for the widower (and, even more, for his young, smart, independent little girl, Jilly) — but her controlling ex is back in town and wants her back. The ending wraps up way too neatly, but Jilly is a terrific character and deserves her own middle-grade story.

A 5K and a KissA 5K and a Kiss by Maddie Evans

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You don’t have to be a runner to enjoy this novel – all you need is an appreciation for well-written banter and likable characters. Maddie Evans doesn’t put her characters in unrealistic situations: There are no billionaires, no 25-year-olds with their own thriving business bankrolled by their parents’ cash. These people struggle, and their struggles are what the books are about. In this story, Aileen finds help as she grieves the loss of her sister in an unlikely place: the local running club. This is more than a sweet romance – it’s a friendship story, too.

A Tease and a Trail RunA Tease and a Trail Run by Maddie Evans

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great story! Charlotte (Charlie) takes refuge at her aunt’s home in Maine after she breaks her engagement to the guy who’s been cheating on her, only weeks before the wedding. Brandon (a peripheral character in “A 5K and a Kiss” and a childhood friend) helps her get reacquainted with the people in the town she used to visit every summer. As a family crisis diverts Charlie’s attention and a job crisis threatens Brandon’s livelihood — and the sister who depends on his rent — the two begin to fall for each other, but the sudden return of Charlie’s ex threatens to mess everything up. I’m enjoying the members of the running club who populate the books in this series; they’re a terrific community of very diverse people who bicker like siblings but always have each other’s back. (Dare I say I’m jealous of that community they’ve formed?)

The Story Keeper (Carolina Heirlooms, #2)The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Newly hired at her dream publishing job, Jen discovers a piece of a decaying manuscript on her desk — but it’s unsigned, and once she reads it, she knows she has to figure out who’s behind it. Doing so will require that she revisit her home town, a place she’d hoped to leave behind forever. This book contains the chapters of the manuscript that Jen finds in various places, and those are the strongest part of the novel.

The Father's SonThe Father’s Son by Jim Sano

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Boston just after the clergy sex-abuse scandals broke in 2002, a successful businessman works through his own childhood abandonment issues and marital failure with the help of a priest. A lot of moral instruction and apologetics was built into the novel, which clocks in at 441 pages, and that seemed to slow down the advancement of the plot and add an element that was didactic, if not preachy. Recommended for readers struggling with the abuse scandals and Church teaching on marriage.

Where the Fire Falls (Vintage National Parks, #2)Where the Fire Falls by Karen Barnett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Painter Olivia pins her career hopes on a trip to Yosemite, underwritten by a wealthy patron who seeks to control her art. Her protector, National Parks guide Clark must decide if he wants to return to the ministry or if his true calling is as a park ranger. The author masterfully sets the scene in Yosemite, as both Olivia and Clark must deal with their pasts, both victims of other people’s bad choices.

Just One KissJust One Kiss by Courtney Walsh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve enjoyed the other Harbor Pointe stories, so this installment was a welcome read. Carly’s teen son Jaden has begun to turn his life around as he pursues competitive skiing, but health issues threaten to sideline him permanently. Carly, a nurse, puts her professional reputation and career on the line as she advocates for her son.

The Color of a Memory (The Color of Heaven, #5)The Color of a Memory by Julianne MacLean

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Audrey is sure her firefighter husband is a player from the moment they met, but she eventually decides to trust him and marries him. After his line-of-duty death, she meets a mysterious woman who claims to have secrets about her husband, and she once again regrets ever trusting him.

Bridge of Scarlet LeavesBridge of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maddie, a violinist whose brother is serving in World War II, secretly dates Lane, the son of Japanese immigrants. They elope on the eve of the Pearl Harbor attack, and discover that not only has the world changed overnight, but they’re expected to be enemies. Lane’s family is sent to Manzanar, and Maddie gives up her dream of attending Juilliard to follow her husband there.

Sold on a MondaySold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1931, Americans were making impossible choices in order to feed their families. Journalist Ellis Reed spies 2 children seated on a porch under a “children for sale” sign and takes a picture — not meant for publication — that winds up in the paper, leading to unintended consequences for himself, secretary Lillian Palmer, the children in the photo, and two families caught in the middle of unexpected deceptions.

Wildflower Hope (The Wildflower House #2)Wildflower Hope by Grace Greene

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this sequel to Wildflower Heart, Kara struggles to move past her father’s death and renovate the historic home he’d recently purchased into an artists’ retreat. At the same time, she must decide whether she can let go of the guy who’s just moved across the country for his job — and let new love in. Kara is more likable in this book than in the first in the series.

YA/Children’s

Perilous Days (Brave Hearts Book 1)Perilous Days by Kathryn Griffin Swegart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Packed with a cast of actual historical characters, this novel for middle-school readers is not just another Holocaust book. It’s the story of a reluctant young conscript into the Nazi army who discovers that his Catholic faith and Hitler’s philosophies are incompatible, and whose family has to entrust the care of his handicapped brother to a convent in order to protect him from the Nazis’ eugenic policies. Felix finds help in surprising and mysterious ways as he works to rescue wounded soldiers on the battlefield.

Martyrs (Brave Hearts Book 2)Martyrs by Kathryn Griffin Swegart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This historical novel tells the story of Fr. Sebastian Rale, a missionary priest in New England during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. It is a window into a time and place not treated in detail in the history books, and into a real-life missionary whose love for the Lord and conviction about his mission will inspire the reader.
One caveat: this book does contain graphic scenes of war, torture, and martyrdom. It is not for the sensitive reader. It’s labeled for ages 10 to 14, but I’d recommend that parents read it first, for this reason.

Waiting with ElmerWaiting with Elmer by Deanna K. Klingel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Willy, a homeless teenager with a criminal father and his own burden of guilt to bear, winds up in Waitnsee, an unusual town where a man named Elmer mentors him, leading him on a journey of growth, faith, and reconciliation. This book, set in the Depression era, features a wonderful cast of characters, including Father Flanagan of Boys Town.

Nonfiction

All for Her: The Autobiography of Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C.All for Her: The Autobiography of Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C. by Patrick Peyton C.S.C.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Peyton tells his own life story, from humble beginnings in an impoverished Irish town to the founding and development of Family Rosary and Family Theater Productions. I was struck not only by Peyton’s deep faith and his devotion to the Blessed Mother, but also his ability to multitask and get things done long before the internet made instant communication possible. This new edition of Peyton’s 1973 autobiography features larger type plus a foreword and epilogue.

Handy Little Guide to the Holy SpiritHandy Little Guide to the Holy Spirit by Michelle Jones Schroeder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Michelle Schroeder brings humor and a personal touch to her treatment of a topic that’s, let’s face it, kind of mysterious to many of us. This booklet from Our Sunday Visitor is designed to help us both understand and forge a connection to the Holy Spirit. Beginning with a discussion of the Trinity (in non-theological, approachable terms), Michelle notes that we don’t just need to know about the Holy Spirit — we need to know Him (14). That’s true of all three Persons of the Trinity, of course, but making a connection to the Holy Spirit doesn’t always seem as intuitive as connecting to God the Father and Jesus, the Son.
Read my full review. (Review copy received from publisher.)

Day by Day with Saint Faustina: 365 ReflectionsDay by Day with Saint Faustina: 365 Reflections by Susan Tassone

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Susan Tassone, well-known for her other writing on Purgatory, Adoration, and Divine Mercy, has taken St. Faustina’s Diary and made it accessible in a new daily devotional from Sophia Institute Press. This book is a page-per-day devotional that bridges the gap between the spiritual and the practical. While the monthly sections of the book are not organized by theme, Susan’s choice of readings for each day of the year are often informed by the liturgical calendar. Each day’s reflection is made up of three parts: a quote from the Diary, a short reflection (just a few sentences) that’s instructional and also a call to action or sometimes a quote from Scripture, and a simple prayer to wrap it up. Read my full review. Review copy received from publisher.

Fifteen Spirituals That Will Change Your LifeFifteen Spirituals That Will Change Your Life by Henry L. Carrigan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading Fifteen Spirituals That Will Change Your Life is like taking a very specific, self-paced music appreciation course. You’ll gain a deep knowledge of 15 beloved spirituals and a new appreciation of their history and message. This is a book you’ll want to read with music by your side.
Read my full review. Review copy received from publisher.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect TimingWhen: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had no idea there was science behind time management, but it all makes sense thanks to Daniel Pink’s book. He’s gathered research from multiple fields to support conclusions such as: students work better after research (any teacher could have told him this), people generally have 2 creative peak times per day, and singing in a group is good for you. A fascinating book! This is one I’ll want to read again.


Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

Where noted, books are review copies. If that is not indicated, I either purchased the book myself or borrowed it from the library.

Follow my Goodreads reviews for the full list of what I’ve read recently (even the duds!)

Visit this month’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 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: June 2019 Reads

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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 (hint: there’s been a bit of a fiction binge lately).

Fiction

Pearl of Great PricePearl of Great Price by Myra Johnson

A job in the family business in a small town suits Julie Pearl Stiles just fine, but when she realizes she may be at the center of a long-ago tragedy, she begins to wonder about her real identity. This story of suffering, friendship, mental illness, romance, and figuring out one’s place in the world will hook you from the start.

Ever Faithful: A Vintage National Parks Novel (Shadows of the Wilderness)Ever Faithful: A Vintage National Parks Novel by Karen Barnett.

All the local color you could want in a novel. This Depression-era story, set in Yellowstone National Park, sets a vivid scene as backdrop for a blossoming romance between a Brooklyn-born CCC worker and a young local woman working hard to achieve her goal of becoming a teacher. Both are wounded in their own ways. A mystery creates enough intrigue (with plausible red herrings) to keep you reading. I’ll look for more from this author!

The Sisters of Summit AvenueThe Sisters of Summit Avenue by Lynn Cullen

“Two sisters bound together by love, duty, and pain” – from the blurb. SO MUCH PAIN. The pain was overwhelmingly palpable. Ruth and her 4 daughters barely keep the family farm running during the Depression; her husband was felled several years ago by encephalitis lethargica. Her sister June is one of the “Bettys” — women developing recipes and answering letters to Betty Crocker. And their mother Dorothy is practically a recluse, hiding from the secrets of her past. Plenty of plot twists and infidelities, and the split-time story line can get a bit confusing. And then there’s that cheap trope where one of the characters wants to write a book, and you discover that you’re reading the book they’re writing. (Netgalley review; available August 2019.)

The Road She Left BehindThe Road She Left Behind by Christine Nolfi

Old family dramas and a lifetime of hurts caused Darcy, burdened by guilt over an accident that killed her father and sister, to flee her family’s estate, abandoning her sister’s baby, Emerson, to the mother Darcy couldn’t wait to escape. 8 years later, Emerson disappears, and Darcy is called back to her family home to help find the young boy and make amends to the boyfriend she left behind years ago. A good story with great secondary characters.

Like Never Before (Walker Family, #2)Like Never Before by Melissa Tagg

When political speechwriter Logan discovers he’s inherited his hometown newspaper, the last thing he wants to do is follow up on that or deal with the ambitious young editor who wants to take over the paper before it’s sold to a conglomerate. But Amelia is chasing a story that has Logan intrigued, and he finds himself trying to untangle Maple Valley’s longtime unsolved mystery, and falling for Amelia in the process. A light, clean summer read; part of an enjoyable series.

All this Time (Walker Family, #4)All this Time by Melissa Tagg

Bear, haunted by a guilty promise he made after his girlfriend’s death, wants to prove himself to her parents in the mission they founded in Brazil. But he’s charged with the care of his nephew and niece, whose parents’ and grandparents’ drug-trade activities put them in danger. He winds up in Maple Valley, where an old crush invites him to stay with her family until his situation stabilizes.

A Place to Belong (Maple Valley)A Place to Belong by Melissa Tagg

This novella provides some back story about Megan and her shop, Coffee Coffee, in the small town of Maple Valley. When Megan meets Eric, owner of a struggling local halfway house, she’s almost ready to put aside a dangerous infatuation from her past – until her baby’s father returns to town. A bit predictable, but fills in the blanks of some of the other Maple Valley novels.

From the Start (Walker Family, #1)From the Start by Melissa Tagg

First in the Walker Family series, this book sets the scene for the quintessential (and a little bit quirky) small town of Maple Valley. Screenwriter/novelist Kate needs a fresh start after disappointments in love and her career, and when she returns to her hometown, she runs into Colton Greene, a sidelined NFL quarterback who needs someone to write his biography as much as he needs a new direction in life after his injuries.

Sister Mary Baruch: The Early YearsSister Mary Baruch: The Early Years by Jacob Restrick

Rebecca Feinstein is drawn to Catholicism through a friend, and while she’s still a college student, she decides to convert from Judaism and, later, to enter a cloistered Dominican monastery. Various family members react in different ways, but a rift between Rebecca and much of her family continues throughout the novel. It’s a good story, but it reads as if an elderly man were dictating the book to a transcriber. I was not intrigued enough to continue reading the series.

Jane by the BookJane by the Book by Pepper D. Basham

This romance novella features two overly-formal characters thrown together by a 150-year-old mystery. Buttoned-up inkeeper Jane and impulsive novelist Titus are an unlikely pair as they try to track down the story of one of Jane’s ancestors while both visit Bath, England. Meanwhile, Titus writes Jane into his novel — and she suspects he’s using her. Maybe you need to be an Austen fan to appreciate this better, but I was underwhelmed.

The Road to Paradise (Vintage National Parks, #1)The Road to Paradise by Karen Barnett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In an attempt to escape the influence of her controlling boyfriend, Margie takes refuge in Mt. Rainier National Park. Her senator father pulls some strings to secure a place for her, but she chooses a remote, tumbledown cabin in order to be closer to nature. Fighting her own fears of her boyfriend when he follows her to the mountain, Margie also battles a rush to development that would destroy the park’s natural beauty — as well as her attraction for a handsome ranger who doesn’t share her faith.

YA/Children’s

Silver Meadows SummerSilver Meadows Summer by Emma Otheguy

11-year-old Carolina grieves her native Puerto Rico, which her family left so they could join relatives in upstate NY. She feels that her family is leaving their heritage behind, trying to fit in to their new place, but all she wants to do is go home and have everything the way it was. She befriends a girl at day camp, and together they find a tumbledown cabin in the woods, which they fix up as a combination hideout/art studio. But their camp, and their studio, are threatened by real-estate developers, and they don’t think middle-schoolers can do anything to stop it. Enjoyable novel for ages 10 and up.

Lucky Broken GirlLucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar

10-year-old Ruthie, a recent immigrant to New York City from Castro’s Cuba, is just finding her way to fit in when she’s in a terrible car accident that leaves her housebound and in a body cast for months. She endures unimaginable loneliness on top of the severe pain from the accident and surgery. This middle-grade semi-autobiographical novel explores the experience of Jewish-Cuban immigrants in the late 1960s.

Nonfiction

The Catholic Working Mom's Guide to LifeThe Catholic Working Mom’s Guide to Life by JoAnna Wahlund

A practical guide bolstered by real-life honesty. The author speaks from her own experience as a Catholic working mom. There are chapters concentrating on specific concerns of moms with infants and very young children, but much of the advice in this book applied to me as well (a full-time, work-from-home mom of a teenager with a young adult also living at home). It’s a good antidote to the Mommy Wars and encouragement to working moms, whether full-time, part-time, split-shift, or what flavor of work schedule describes yours. Many, MANY plugs for the author’s Facebook group, which came off as a bit self-serving. (ARC received from publisher.)

Live Big, Love Bigger: Getting Real with BBQ, Sweet Tea, and a Whole Lotta JesusLive Big, Love Bigger: Getting Real with BBQ, Sweet Tea, and a Whole Lotta Jesus by Kathryn Whitaker

Not what I expected – and that was a good thing! From the blurb, I thought it would be more of a travelogue of the Whitaker family’s barbecue pilgrimage, and that’s not at all the case. Since I’ve never been to Texas nor had barbecue, I didn’t expect to relate to this book. Instead, I found that it’s full of honest talk from a mom who had to learn the hard way a lesson we all need to learn: perfectionism doesn’t get you anywhere. If you have a quiet place to read and a bottomless glass of sweet tea, you’ll easily read your way through this book in an afternoon, but its lessons will stick with you much longer. (ARC received from publisher; available late August 2019.)

EducatedEducated by Tara Westover

A disturbing memoir of a family that was beyond dysfunctional. The author grew up physically and emotionally isolated from others and was never allowed to attend school. Her mentally ill father and codependent mother created an unstable environment for the family that put themselves and their children in danger on repeated occasions. The author seems to be trying to move toward a place of healing, but frequently backtracks and undercuts some of her statements by introducing competing accounts from others. This book is enormously popular but I don’t see the attraction, unless you’re after a voyeuristic look into a family life affected by mental illness.

Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

Where noted, books are review copies. If that is not indicated, I either purchased the book myself or borrowed it from the library.

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 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: May 2019 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

printed letter bookshopThe Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay. Madeline inherits a struggling bookshop from her aunt Maddie and finds that she has plenty of healing to do as she works to turn the store around. Meanwhile, healing is in order for the store’s two employees, one of whom had gone through a bitter divorce; the other is disconnected from her family. I originally thought this would be a cheap take-off on You’ve Got Mail – but I was very pleasantly surprised. Don’t miss this book!

memory house-hauckThe Memory House by Rachel Hauck. Split-time novels can be challenging reads but Rachel Hauck makes it easy. Beck’s policeman father died on 9/11 and she lost all her childhood memories with him. Pregnant after an ill-considered one-night stand and suspended from her job on the NYPD, Beck learns she’s inherited a home in Florida from a family friend she doesn’t remember either. She gradually learns the story of the widowed Everleigh Applegate as she reconnects with a childhood friend who’s facing his own challenges. Highly recommended.

georgiaGeorgia on Her Mind by Rachel Hauck. Macy finds herself pushed out of her job and dumped by her boyfriend in the same horrible day. She tries to make the best of things with the help of her friends, the “Single Saved Sisters,” and worries about her upcoming high-school reunion. She doesn’t want to return as a failure to her hometown. After several false starts, she finds a way to make it, after all. Believable characters and situation. I really enjoyed this story.

Sweet on YouSweet on You by Becky Wade. Warning: This novel will make you want to eat chocolate. And I’m not talking M&Ms or Hershey Kisses. You may as well visit your favorite candy shop and pick up some of the good stuff right now, before you begin reading. That’s because Britt, the heroine of the novel, owns a gourmet chocolate shop; her family and friends, including Zander, her longtime friend who’s had a longtime crush on her, get to taste-test her creations. Read my full review. (ARC received from publisher)

the waves

The Waves by Amy Matayo. Dillon and Liam, both forced to go on a cruise with Dillon’s family, wind up stranded on a tiny deserted island after Dillon tries to escape her family and goes on an impromptu excursion. The two must find ways to survive as they wait and hope for rescue. Good suspense; a clean and sweet romance.

gold diggerGold Digger: The Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor by Rebecca Rosenberg. Fascinating historical novel about Colorado’s own Gold Rush and the people whose lives were made and ruined in the gold- and silver-mining industry. I was amazed to learn that Baby Doe and many other figures in the novel were real people. The historical scope of the book was impressive, but the characters weren’t very well-developed. Fair warning: the book ends on a cliffhanger — you’ll have to Google what happens to Baby Doe and her family. (Netgalley review)

rumors and promisesRumors & Promises by Kathleen Rouser. Sophie Biddle arrives in a small town with a young child and almost nothing else. Wary of strangers, she settles in to work at a boarding house, hoping no one will figure out that the little girl is not her sister but her daughter — who was conceived in rape — and that her attacker won’t find her. The young minister, who harbors tragic secrets of his own, falls in love with her. I’ll look for more by this author!

YA/Children’s

confessionsConfessions of a Closet Catholic by Sarah Darer Littman. Probably the best book about Catholics written by a non-Catholic I’ve read. Justine’s family is Jewish, but nominally so, and she wants the kind of faith she sees in her friend Mary Catherine’s family. She decides, as only a middle-schooler can, to give up being Jewish for Lent — and immediately regrets it when her beloved grandmother suffers a stroke. Could God be punishing her? Her visit to the confessional is at once hilarious and sweet. A wonderful story of a young girl’s spiritual exploration.

Nonfiction

letter to suffering churchLetter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis by Bishop Robert Barron. Writing in his own name as a Catholic, a priest, and a bishop — and not on behalf of his diocese, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), or the Church as a whole, Bishop Barron reaches out to readers who are wounded and disillusioned. Kindle version is now available for preorder. Read my full review, which contains details on how to order the book in bulk for your parish or program, at CatholicMom.com.

be braveBe Brave in the Scared: How I Learned to Trust God During the Most Difficult Days of My Life by Mary Lenaberg. I binge-read this book in an afternoon. It’s THAT good. Mary Lenaberg is a terrific, honest writer. She does not shy away about discussing the hard stuff, and I give her a lot of credit for sharing her own struggles in order to encourage others. If you have something in your life that you need to grieve and heal from, but you haven’t been able to give yourself permission to do that, this book is for you. (ARC received from publisher)

our lady of charityOur Lady of Charity: How a Cuban Devotion to Mary Helped Me Grow in Faith and Love by Maria Morera Johnson. A beautiful testament to the ways the patroness of Johnson’s native Cuba helped her grow in faith even after she moved with her family to the US. This quick read introduces la virgencita — Our Lady of Charity, the patroness of Cuba. Johnson traces the history of devotion among Cubans to this depiction of Our Lady, a devotion that has continued within the Cuban-American community to this day. Read my full review. (ARC received from publisher)

catholic dad 2Catholic Dad 2: More (Mostly) Funny Stories of Faith, Family, and Fatherhood by Jake Frost. Most of the stories in this book are only two to four pages long — a great length for busy parents to enjoy. I enjoy Jake’s perspective on raising children as a stay-at-home dad, his appreciation for his own mother’s influence in his life, his gentle sense of humor, and his unabashed faith that shines through on every page. (Review copy received from the author)

Love laughter living saintsLove, Laughter and Living Saints by Rev. Charles Cummings. Clearly a storyteller at heart, Fr. Cummings notes that some of the stories in this book have made their way into his homilies over his 50 years as a priest. From vignettes of his childhood to seminary stories and tales of the joys and challenges of life as a parish priest, this short book comprises 70 stories in addition to Father Cummings’ own vocation story, which serves as the introduction to the book. These stories clearly depict the author’s care for his family and his parishioners, and his servant’s heart. (Review copy received from the author)

library bookThe Library Book by Susan Orlean. Ostensibly the true-crime story of a 1986 arson fire in the main branch of the Los Angeles library, this book was less about the crime and more about the history of the LA Library system, its iconic building, and the people who have worked there. If you’re a big reader and user of libraries, and if you’ve ever worked in a library, you’ll be fascinated by the inside baseball you’ll find here. If you want to know who set the fire, don’t even bother. Also note: this author is openly anti-religion and particularly anti-Catholic, so keep this in mind while reading.


Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

Where noted, books are review copies. If that is not indicated, I either purchased the book myself or borrowed it from the library.

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 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: April 2019 Reads

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently.

It’s been a crazy month for me, what with two work trips plus Easter plus TheKid’s spring musical, so it’s only fiction this time and much less than usual.

Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:

tortured soulTortured Soul by Theresa Linden. A compelling tale of a haunting, with a twist. Jeannie Lyons is pushed out of her family’s home by her older brother and into a remote cottage that also houses a gruesome “presence.” Afraid to be at home, but with nowhere else to go, Jeannie enlists the help of the sort-of-creepy guy her brother had once pushed her to date. This edge-of-the-seat story of guilt and forgiveness emphasizes the importance of praying for the souls of the deceased — and would make a great movie. Look for a longer review later this month. Releases May 12. (ARC provided by author)

solace of waterThe Solace of Water by Elizabeth Byler Younts. I got off to a bad start with this book, but my friends’ reviews convinced me to give it a second chance and I’m glad I did. Delilah grieves the accidental loss of her son so deeply that she can’t see how it’s affecting the daughter who was supposed to be watching out for her brother at the time of his death. When the family moves north in search of a fresh start, Delilah and daughter Sparrow befriend Emma, an Amish woman isolated by a secret about her husband she feels she must keep from her community. A beautiful novel filled with deep emotion — not at all an easy read, but definitely worthwhile.

mother of pearlMother of Pearl by Kellie Coates Gilbert. I almost never pass up books with teachers as main characters, and this novel didn’t disappoint. Barrie is a supermom who works in her kids’ high school and has high-achieving teenagers. But things start to unravel when her daughter begins to lash out after a very public betrayal by her boyfriend. Guidance-counselor Barrie can fix everyone’s lives except the ones she loves, and she finds herself in way over her head when it looks like the football coach, who’d already made her career miserable, is involved in an unthinkable crime. I’ll look for more by this author.

only one lifeOnly One Life by Ashley Farley. Julia grew up in a wealthy household, but escaped a difficult family life by eloping with her college sweetheart. When a tragic accident claims her husband the night their baby is born, Julia finds she must return home to survive — and learns that her family history is much more complicated than she’d ever imagined. This novel follows dual timelines through Julia’s mother’s early marriage and Julia’s return home. Very well done.

perfectly good crimePerfectly Good Crime (A Kate Bradley Mystery) by Dete Meserve. Sequel to Good Sam, this novel follows broadcast journalist Kate as she tries to track down a criminal calling himself “Robin Hood,” who steals from the wealthiest of the wealthy in order to help the poor. Kate’s father, a politician, faces pressure to keep her off the story, but her own career motivations won’t let her give up her pursuit of the mystery — and a career-making big story that could cost her a chance at love. Not a standalone novel. (Netgalley review)

lost husbandThe Lost Husband by Catherine Center. Libby, a widow with two young children and an overbearing mother, seizes the chance to escape and start fresh when her estranged (and admittedly strange) aunt contacts her out of the blue. Libby’s new life involves raising goats and making cheese, which she knows nothing about but is willing to learn. It also involves uncovering an old family secret and learning to let go of the grief that paralyzes her in many ways. A bit predictable, but a good story.

adequate yearly progressAdequate Yearly Progress by Roxanna Elden. I don’t usually include books in this space that I wouldn’t recommend to others, but as I have many friends in the field of education who might pick up this book, I’m making an exception. This novel follows several teachers through a transformative year in an inner-city school. A new superintendent draws on his motivational-speaking background and requires teachers and admins to jump through hoops, under the guise of improving test scores, to preserve their jobs. Heavy pro-abortion bias (teachers wondering why pregnant students “don’t just get an abortion”) and slams at charter, private, and parochial schools. I found this book to be the equivalent of toxic faculty-room denizens, and the material definitely wouldn’t inspire struggling or aspiring teachers.


Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

Where noted, books are review copies. If that is not indicated, I either purchased the book myself or borrowed it from the library.

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 logo

 


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

 

#OpenBook: March 2019 Reads

open book logo

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

libbys cuppa joeLibby’s Cuppa Joe by Rebecca Waters. Coffee shops and books and lakeside resort towns: what’s not to love about the setting for Rebecca Waters’ newest Christian novel? The author painted such a clear picture of Fish Creek that I felt I could have drawn a map of the town — and it’s a town where I’d be proud to live. I dove into this book and didn’t want to come back out; my only complaint is that 188 pages wasn’t enough! I’d have loved a little more story, and if the author sets any more books in this lovely community, I’ll be a happy reader.

finding dorothyFinding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts. Fictionalized story of Maud Gage Baum, wife of the author of the “Wizard of Oz” books. This novel, based on true events, feels like it belongs on the biography shelf. The author cleverly and seamlessly emphasizes elements in Maud’s life that pop up in the Oz novels. The story of her presence on the movie set brought to mind P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks but everything else rings true in this fascinating book. A must if you liked the Oz books or the movie.

hurt roadHurt Road by Bruce A. Stewart. Teenage Hank winds up in rural Louisiana after his parents are killed in an accident, and it’s the last place he wants to be – until he meets a girl and then makes a friend. His ticket out of the South is a relative in Colorado and then military service; returning after the Vietnam War, he discovers he still has feelings for that girl. But there’s a crazy ex-boyfriend who doesn’t want anyone getting between him and his dream to reunite with Becky. I enjoyed this story very much; I only wish there had been a little more to it. The narrative seemed a bit thin more often than not, especially young Hank’s quick turnaround in attitude toward helping his grandparents.

beantown girlsThe Beantown Girls by Jane Healey. Terrific WWII novel about Red Cross volunteers who travel to Europe to help the war effort. Main character Fiona’s motivation is finding her fiance, who’s been MIA for a couple of years. Despite some Lucy-and-Ethel-quality disasters in front of their superiors, the 3 are sent to France, where the realities of war are brought home to them in tragic ways. I will add that there seemed to be a disconnect in attitude: a guy who has a girlfriend back home but pursues Fiona’s friend is termed a “wolf” but Fiona finds herself in a romance. Double standard much?

song of bernadetteThe Song of Bernadette by Franz Werfel. This novelization of the apparitions at Lourdes was a tough read: paragraphs went on for a page at a time and the style is very, very flowery. I appreciated that the novel included the perspectives of many involved, without trying to get into Bernadette’s head. The book provides a good perspective of what life was like in rural France at that time in history.

 

YA/Children’s

margarets first holy weekMargaret’s First Holy Week by Jon M. Sweeney. The third book in Jon M. Sweeney’s “The Pope’s Cat” series of chapter books about a little cat who comes to live in the Vatican takes up the serious topic of the holiest time in the Church year in a sweet, reverent way children can understand. An ideal introduction to Holy Week for children ages 4 through 8, either as a read-aloud or for independent readers in second or third grade. Works well as a standalone, so don’t skip it if you haven’t read the others in the series.

Nonfiction

my queen my motherMy Queen, My Mother: A Living Novena by Marge Fenelon. This book is more than simply a novena of prayers: it’s a pilgrimage memoir, travel guidebook, and prayer book all in one. Fenelon leads the reader on a journey around the USA, visiting 9 holy shrines to the Blessed Mother and sharing what makes each a unique and worthwhile place to visit and pray. Along the way, readers are guided through a novena of consecration to the Blessed Mother. The author ends by emphasizing the importance of regularly visiting holy shrines, as these are in danger of disappearing due to lack of visitors and funding. The book can be read over 9 days, weeks, or months – but I had a tough time stopping at the end of any single day’s entry. Highly recommended. (Netgalley review)

know thyself-aKnow Thyself: The Imperfectionist’s Guide to Sorting Your Stuff by Lisa Lawmaster Hess. Finally, an organizing book for the rest of us: the ones who look organized on the outside … until you open doors or drawers, and the ones whose stuff is all over the place. Lisa Lawmaster Hess has created a do-able guide to embracing your unique combination of personal and organizing styles and working with them instead of against them. Parents: don’t miss the chapter on helping kids get organized for school. (ARC received from publisher; coming in late June from Our Sunday Visitor – but available for preorder now!)

other wes mooreThe Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore. A dual biography/autobiography with an interesting premise: two boys with the same name grow up in the same city, only blocks away from each other, with many other similarities in early-life circumstances. One grows up to become a Rhodes scholar and eventually an elite Army officer; the other is sentenced to life in prison for his part in a drug-related murder. Wes Moore discusses what went right for him and what went wrong for his same-named counterpart.

random acts of kindnessRandom Acts of Kindness: Inspiring True Stories by Dete Meserve. This companion to Meserve’s novel Good Sam is comprised of example after example of true stories of people caught in the act of kindness. When you need a break from the news of the day, enjoy a story or two from this book and your spirits will be lifted as you’re reminded that there are plenty of good people left in the world – we just don’t get to hear about them enough. (Netgalley review)

mostly sunnyMostly Sunny: How I Learned to Keep Smiling Through the Rainiest Days by Janice Dean. Memoir of a radio DJ-turned-TV meteorologist who faced sexual harassment throughout her career, and who is challenged by living with multiple sclerosis. Dean is very upfront about her various high-profile bosses who abused their power by harassing female employees. Of interest only if you enjoy celebrity bios.

Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

Where noted, books are review copies. If that is not indicated, I either purchased the book myself or borrowed it from the library.

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 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: February 2019 Reads

open book logo
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

emily goneEmily, Gone by Bette Lee Crosby. A crime of opportunity: a grieving, unhinged young woman breaks into a home looking for food — and comes out with a 6-month-old baby she’s convinced is her own stillborn child. While her boyfriend agonizes over how to get the baby girl back to her parents, Vicki settles right in as a mom. Meanwhile Rachel finds it impossible to get over the loss of her baby. There are plenty of wonderful small-town characters, and this story of grief, resilience, and healing is compelling and well written. This book should come with a warning label: Don’t start reading this unless you can commit to the whole novel immediately! (Netgalley; expected April 30, 2019)

eleanor oliphantEleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. This book’s cover blurbs call it “incredibly funny” and “hilarious” — I would never apply those adjectives to this book. Eleanor has lived through a harrowing childhood, which the reader learns about bit by bit as Eleanor navigates a new-to-her experience: friendship and an ill-targeted crush. Her lack of social skills and her survival strategy (a rigidly regimented life) lead to some painfully-comic moments but this book is hardly a laugh. Eleanor’s life is changed when she and a coworker stop to aid an injured man on the street, and you can’t help but cheer for her as she navigates new relationships and situations.

one thing i knowOne Thing I Know by Kara Isaac. A fun read with believable characters. Rachel is the ghostwriter behind a successful relationship coach, and her whole corpus of advice is based on trust, mostly stemming from problems with her father. Radio host Lucas has a host of trust issues thanks to his own dad’s actions, and is tempted by an opportunity to expose Rachel’s secret, but the two start to fall for each other, and that’s where it gets really complicated. I can’t help but be impressed by Isaac’s ability to write for an American audience, as she is a New Zealander.

attachmentsAttachments by Rainbow Rowell. Is there a different word for an epistolary novel written in emails? This brilliant story is half-told via an email exchange between two young journalists, with the other half, in typical narrative style, about the IT guy tasked with reading emails that don’t pass the company’s filter. Lincoln finds himself fascinated by these young women, developing a crush on one of them even as she crushes on him after seeing him in the break room and around town. A fun and believable story with plenty of near-misses to keep it moving, and well-developed characters you can’t help but care about. Don’t miss this one!

just let goJust Let Go by Courtney Walsh. Quinn buys the flower shop her mother abandoned when she left her marriage and family during Quinn’s childhood. Driven to prepare the shop for opening and to create a floral display that will catch the eye of her mother, now a judge of a prestigious contest for floral artists, Quinn feels she has no room in her life for Grady, a bad-boy skier whose rage after losing an important competition lands him in trouble with the law in Quinn’s small town. But for his community service, he’s tasked with helping Quinn at the shop. Predictable, but enjoyable. Second in a series, though that’s not indicated on the cover; I recommend reading Just Look Up first, if only to get a better sense of the setting and the back story of other characters.

her hope discovered

 Her Hope Discovered (Welcome to Ruby #1) by Cynthia Herron. Sweet debut novel on the theme of second chances. An odd supernatural element doesn’t seem to quite fit in a Christian novel, and there were more than a few “do people really talk like that?” moments, but I enjoyed the story of a young female exec who abandoned her career to relocate in a small town, only to meet the widower with two young children whose deceased wife grew up in the house Charla just bought. There’s a second novel coming in the series, and I will look for it.

season of romanceSeason of Romance: Faith-filled, sweet, heartwarming, clean small-town novella (Rios Azules Romances: the Macalisters Book 1) by Alexa Verde. This is a longer version of “Love’s Ransom,” a First Street Church novella. It’s still a novella (its title is almost as long as the book!), and I didn’t see too much that I hadn’t found in the first book, though the plot seemed to be stronger this time around. A good, and fairly realistic, peek into what it’s like to live with a child who has diabetes. Paramedic Melinda has Type 1 diabetes, and she falls for the uncle of the little boy next door, a child who also has Type 1 and whose father was recently killed in an accident.

YA/Children’s

miscalculations of lightning girlThe Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty. Compelling middle-grade novel about a 7th-grader with amazing math abilities. In school for the first time in years, she struggles to find a way to fit in, even hiding her abilities. But she can’t hide a few OCD tendencies, and kids can be cruel. A required small-group service project has unexpected results. Great twist at the end. Highly recommended.

promises to theresaPromises to Theresa by Marianne Komek. What looks like a typical high-school overachiever’s tendency to take on too many activities turns out to be a sign of bipolar disorder, and Theresa Jarewski feels like nothing will be normal again. This novel unmasks the struggles of a bipolar teen, explores her crisis of faith, and celebrates friends strong enough to stick together in tough times. (ARC provided by the author)

Nonfiction

holy hacksHoly Hacks: Everyday Ways to Live Your Faith & Get to Heaven by Patti Maguire Armstrong. Packed with hundreds of do-able ways to grow in holiness, this book is filled with tips, but it’s not simply bullet point after bullet point. Sections of tips are interspersed with introductions of the people whose tips are offered here, explanations of virtue, and information about Catholic practices, which makes for fascinating reading. While it’s fine to read Holy Hacks from start to finish, you might get more out of it if you start at chapter 1, then skip around to the sections you feel you most need at the moment. Like your favorite cookbook, this handbook should be easy to reach when you need it for quick reference. Read my full review. (Review copy received from publisher.)

live today wellLive Today Well: St. Francis de Sales’s Simple Approach to Holiness by Fr. Thomas Dailey, OSFS. This introduction to the writing of St. Francis de Sales synthesized many books and letters into one volume. The book emphasizes the Salesian traditions of using attention and intention to focus on the spiritual, even while we do the most mundane of tasks. St. Francis de Sales emphasizes that holiness is not connected to our state in life, and that everyone can pursue holiness. As intentional living is such a trendy phrase right now, it’s good to unite it with its spiritual origin and seek to intentionally live in a way that brings us ever closer to Christ. I’m interested in reading the primary sources upon which this book is based. (I’m also wondering about that apostrophe-s in the subtitle … )

day the world came to townThe Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede. A very uplifting account of something we didn’t know was happening at the time (because we were too consumed, being close to New York, with the Twin Towers part of the 9/11 attack): the story of several communities in a remote area of Newfoundland who played a unique role in helping stranded travelers immediately after the attack. I’d recommend this to high-school students learning about the events of that day. The book left me wanting to go to Newfoundland and personally thank the people and organizations who dropped everything, raided their own linen closets, and offered amazing hospitality to people who just wanted to go home.


Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

Where noted, books are review copies. If that is not indicated, I either purchased the book myself or borrowed it from the library.

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 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: January 2019 Reads

open book logo

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. I didn’t get a lot of reading done in January because I let one giant nonfiction book (see below) occupy most of my reading time.

Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:

Fiction

just look upJust Look Up by Courtney Walsh. In a novel that’s an indictment of a high-powered workaholic lifestyle, Courtney Walsh tells the story of Lane, an interior designer who’s on the verge of making it big in the big city after running away from the betrayals she felt in her family and hometown. Called home when her brother is involved in a serious accident, Lane is forced to examine her personal and professional priorities. A good story, and I liked the setting of Lane’s hometown.

loves choiceLove’s Choice by Liwen Y. Ho (First Street Church Romances. A sweet story about a young pregnant woman who’s kicked out by her abusive boyfriend and returns home, only to run into the high-school boyfriend who still carries a torch for her. He’s a little TOO perfect, and the religious part felt forced (do people really talk like that?) but it’s a hopeful read just the same.

mistletoe kissMistletoe Kiss by Andrea Boyd. Friends since childhood, Rae and Chase kiss under the mistletoe at an amusement park’s attempt to break a world record. Then they both discover that maybe they don’t want to be just friends – but neither of them knows how to take the next step. Cute Christmas story.

YA/Children’s

i am god's storyteller coverI Am God’s Storyteller by Lisa M. Hendey. This picture book is a celebration of each child’s — each person’s — God-given creativity and an encouragement to use that creativity to share the Good News with others. The writing is almost lyrical in its cadence and lends itself wonderfully to a read-aloud. And the illustrations by Eric Carlson are fun and inviting, yet not garish. Read my full review. (ARC received from the publisher).

Nonfiction

prairie fires

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser. A well-researched tome (500 pages BEFORE the footnotes) covering the time before Laura’s birth to present day, but not without considerable political bias. The author’s tone indicates scorn or resentment toward Rose’s political leanings. It doesn’t seem like the author likes or admires Laura. While hagiography isn’t necessary, neither is the almost gleeful digging into the Ingalls and Wilder families’ dirt. Normally I don’t cover books in this space if I wouldn’t give them at least 3 stars out of 5, but I’m making an exception because I grew up a big fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who enjoyed the children’s books for what they are: one person’s memoirs written as fiction for a young audience.


Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

Where noted, books are review copies. If that is not indicated, I either purchased the book myself or borrowed it from the library.

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 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz