books on a bookshelf

On My Bookshelf: Saints, Parenting, and Family Finance

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Today, I’m taking a look at 6 new books on the topics of saints, parenting, and family finance.

Pray Along with Married Saints

If you and your spouse are looking for a different way to pray together, try this new devotional by Kent and Kaitlin Lasnoski. 30 Days with Married Saints: a Catholic Couples’ Devotional includes a month’s worth of reflections inspired by the Holy Family and eleven saintly couples or individuals who evangelized by example.

The married saints passionately loved their spouses, delighted in their children, opened their homes to strangers, gave generously to others, and lived an intense piety. They also managed to find joy amid their day’s equivalents of dirty diapers, dishes, laundry, cubicles, traffic, and office meetings. They were the salt and light of the world and the presence of the risen Christ to those who met them (see Mt 5:13-16). Now from heaven these married saints continually intercede for the faithful’s intentions, including for your marriage. Through their example and prayers, may the married saints lead us to Christ! (4-5)

Each daily section (5 to 10 pages) includes an opening prayer, a reflection inspired by a saint or saintly couple, suggestions for spiritual practice, and a closing prayer. This book would make a wonderful gift for an engaged couple, newlyweds, or to celebrate a wedding anniversary. Available from Pauline Books & Media.

 

What Is Good Catholic Parenting, Anyway?

Mark and Melanie Hart explain in Our Not-Quite-Holy Family: A Practical Guide for Catholic Parents that there’s no one way to be a good parent. This is an honest and often clever look at what family life is really like, written by a couple with children in college, high school, middle school, and elementary school. In this book’s seven chapters, the authors discuss proactive parenting, dealing with extended family, marital intimacy, creating a domestic church, prayer, screen time, and raising future saints. Each chapter includes a prayer and a number of practical steps you and your spouse can take to meet your ultimate parenting goal: leading each other, and your children, to heaven.

Remember the goal of your parenting is to raise well-formed young souls. If you see your spouse beginning to lose their temper in a situation, look at them and simply say, “Remember the goal.” God has entrusted these souls to you for a reason. You are capable of more than you think you are with the help of his grace (13).

You’ll also find an appendix packed with prayers and devotions for couples and families, and short testimonials from 5 Catholic families. Available from Ave Maria Press.

 

A Deep Dive into Catholic Parenting

Conor Gallagher’s Parenting for Eternity: A Guide to Raising Children in Holy Mother Church takes a look at how parents can direct their efforts toward saving their children’s souls. This book is not a light read, and it seems to be geared to parents of younger children; the writing style is decidedly old-fashioned (if I hadn’t seen the 2021 copyright date, I’d have pegged the book to have been written at least 65 years earlier). If you are a fan of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen’s work, this parenting book is for you.

As a parent, you must examine your conscience: do you give greater attention to your child’s physical or spiritual well-being? Have you gone to great lengths to construct your entire life around your child’s health, education, social life, and sports so they can be well-rounded, productive, and successful citizens? A resounding yes comes to mind. But have you given even 10 percent of such effort to their spiritual formation? Have you considered Heaven and hell 10 percent as much as you consider wordly success for your growing child? (3-4)

Chapters discuss the Four Last Things, piety, humility, the Church, Our Lady and the saints, awareness of the angelic and demonic, and the School of Calvary. You’ll also find four appendices that include Christ’s warnings about hell, prayers and novena for the holy souls, the Angelus, and a prayer for your child’s vocation. Available from TAN Books.

 

Beatitudes-Based Healing for Parents

In All Things New: Breaking the Cycle and Raising a Joyful Family, Erin McCole Cupp reaches out to parents who don’t feel equipped for the task because they didn’t have good parenting models as they grew up. If your childhood was marked by dysfunction, difficulty, and a lack of nurturing, you’re not doomed to repeat that scenario with your own family — you need a new parenting toolkit than the one you were provided.

We know what not to do. But God is a good father, and he knows that we need more than directions on the negative. He knows we need directions on what to do instead. That is why, in preparing to give us the new covenant of his blood on the cross, Jesus first climbed a mountain, sat his people down, and gave them directions on how to live within the boundaries of freedom. In other words, in the Sermon on the Mount, he gave us the Beatitudes. He gave us a new script. (76)

This book is not designed only for parents just starting out. Of course, parents of newborns or expectant parents will benefit from the information and encouragement in All Things New, but parents of children of any age (even young adults) can learn strategies for forgiving, trusting (where appropriate), making emotional connections, practicing gratitude, and more parenting skills of the kind those regular parenting books don’t teach you — because they assume you learned them during your formative years.

 

The Parents Behind the Holy Cards

Are you raising a future saint? Get your parenting inspiration from Patrick O’Hearn’s new collective biography, Parents of the Saints: The Hidden Heroes Behind Our Favorite Saints. O’Hearn tells the stories of more than 100 parents whose children became saints. The book is organized by seven hallmarks of holiness: sacramental life (including Our Lady), surrender, sacrificial love, suffering, simplicity, solitude, and sacredness of life.

Behind every holy card, image, and statue of the saints lies the story of a person who came from a father and mother. It is within this school of love, this domestic church, where most saints learned to pray, love, and receive the mustard seed of faith, which, in time, developed into heroic virtue (3).

Some narratives are longer than others; Louis and Zélie Martin’s story spans 15 pages, while Karol and Emilia Wojtila’s is a single page long. The book can be read straight through, or you can pick and choose as you go. No matter what order you read about these saints, you’ll be inspired and edified by their lives and example. Available from TAN Books.

 

Setting Financial Goals, Catholic Style

A Catholic Guide to Spending Less and Living More: Advice from a Debt-Free Family of 16 by Sam and Rob Fatzinger took me back to the early days of my marriage, when we lived on one income and I scoured The Tightwad Gazette (borrowed from the library, of course!) for money-saving tips as my financial contribution to the family. Not only does this book contain plenty of tips that families (or singles) can use regardless of their family situation, it also simplifies some basic financial concepts and offers spiritual insight about how we use our money.

Do you want God to give you the strength to avoid going further into debt? How about skipping a meal? Or giving up dessert for a week? Maybe you have a thing for sugary coffees; could you go a few days drinking black coffee? Or, dare I say, no coffee at all? Offer a prayer with each short fast for an increase in the virtues that will help you avoid overspending (65).

Sam and Rob Fatzinger share their own stories of figuring out the best ways to save money and stay out of debt while living on one income. Recommended especially for newly married couples and singles starting out on their own. Available from Ave Maria Press.


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!

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

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz

books on a bookshelf

On my bookshelf: May 2021 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

In a Far-Off Land by Stephanie Landsem. Such an excellent novel! Stephanie Landsem places themes from the Parable of the Prodigal Son in 1930s-era Hollywood in this compelling tale of ambition, glamor that’s all on the surface, family loyalty, and forgiveness. While aspiring starlet Minerva Sinclaire is meant to be the star of the show, I was much more fascinated by the two young men, Oscar and Max, who opened themselves to considerable risk in order to protect and help her. 5 stars.

Songs for Clara by Larry Denninger. Family secrets, longtime grudges, musical mysteries, and pretty girls in the 1980s equivalent of the friend zone … this debut novel puts it all together. A young music teacher discovers a packet of sheet music in his childhood home, but his estranged father (the composer) has dementia and can’t share the details of the mystery woman, Clara, to whom the work is dedicated. Frank endangers his relationship with his sister, his bandmates, and the two women who compete for his affection as he endeavors to solve the mystery. 5 stars.

When I Last Saw You by Bette Less Crosby. In this split-timeline story, a recent widow hires a private detective to track down the family members she’d lost touch with decades before when her mother had to split up the children in order to survive. Her mother’s story of betrayal by her husband and being left to a hardscrabble life with eight children is a tragic counterpoint to the story of a slowly reunited family and a chance at new love. Don’t miss this one! 5 stars.

Hadley Beckett’s Next Dish by Bethany Turner. If you like Food Network shows, this romance is for you. Southern chef Hadley competes against the bad-boy New Yorker for a coveted spot: her own season of a special show highlighting the best chefs. Her grace under pressure while Max throws a tantrum during the final round seems to seal the deal – but then the producers decide it will make better TV to pit the two against each other. 4 stars.

The Oysterville Sewing Circle by Susan Wiggs. After a career-imploding situation in New York City, up-and-coming fashion designer Caroline’s world changes when her close friend and favorite model dies suddenly and Caroline is entrusted with the care of her two small children. She returns to coastal Washington state to stay with family and, as a way of making up for her lack of awareness of her friend’s situation as a victim of domestic violence, starts a small business and support group for local domestic violence victims. 5 stars.

YA/Children’s

Lucia of Fatima (Brave Hearts #3) by Kathryn Griffin Swegart. Excellent introduction to the story of the apparitions at Fatima for kids ages 10 and up. Told from the point of view of Lucia, who was 10 years old when the Blessed Mother first appeared to her and her younger cousins at Fatima, this historical novel gives readers a look into what it was like for the young visionary and how her life was changed afterward. The author, a gifted storyteller, skillfully portrayed each scene. The story brings home the message that you are never too young to follow God’s call. Written for ages 10 and up, but would be a good read-aloud for age 7 and up. 

Nonfiction

Behold This Heart by Fr. Thomas Dailey, OSFS. Fr. Dailey begins the book with chapters on the Salesian Backstory (the history and traditions of the Order) and Salesian Prayer. This chapter contained fascinating information on the iconography of the Sacred Heart and its depictions in art prior to the time of St. Margaret Mary — and how her own drawings and letters have affected depictions of the Sacred Heart since her lifetime. Throughout the book there are many beautiful images of the Sacred Heart to contemplate as you read and pray. Review copy received from the publisher. Read my full review at CatholicMom.com.

Simple Mercies: How the Works of Mercy bring Peace and Fulfillment by Lara Patangan, provides practical, do-able ways to live the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy in your family and community. In each chapter, Lara begins with a quote that sets the tone for the chapter, then discusses the kinds of opportunities for experiencing a particular Work of Mercy in our own lives, families, work, church and communities. God is never left out of the equation, as Lara frequently references the graces God gives us to carry out works of mercy in His name, with love. Later in each chapter, you’ll find a section titled “Mercy Works: Try It” which lists ideas for applying each Work of Mercy in your family, community, and personal relationship with God. Chapters conclude with reflection questions (perfect for journaling on your own, or for discussion at your book club or parish faith-sharing group), and a concluding prayer. Review copy received from the publisher. 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 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 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz

bookshelf with Catholic fiction titles

On My Bookshelf: March 2021 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

Veiled in Smoke (The Windy City Saga Book 1) by Jocelyn Green. I read the series out of order, though book 2 was written well enough that I didn’t even realize it was part of a series until I was well into the story. It takes place in Chicago at the time of the Great Fire, and tells the story of two sisters caring for their widowed father, who suffers PTSD from his time in a Civil War military prison. One thing that seemed odd: the family owns a bookstore with a cafe in it. That’s not something I think of when I think of the late 1800s.

Half a Heart by Karen McQuestion. A heartbreaking story of a 9-year-old boy suffering abuse at the hands of his dad, and who misses his maternal grandmother. Told she has died, Logan seizes an opportunity to escape, and finds a way to survive alone, while Grandma Nan frantically searches for him. Great peripheral characters make this a wonderful story.

Not Until Now (Hope Springs Book 8) by Valerie M. Bodden. Paraplegic Kayla happens upon a car wreck and rescues a child whose mother needs hospitalization. Kayla wants to help the little girl, and must convince the child’s uncle, who had been estranged from his sister due to her struggles with addiction, to commit to caring for her. Part of a linked series but can be read as a standalone.

The Restoration of Celia Fairchild by Marie Bostwick. When an advice columnist loses her job in New York, she returns to Charleston, planning to unload an estate left to her by an aunt. But the house is in far worse shape than she’d realized, and she needs it to pass inspection so she can be approved to adopt a child. Celia and some new friends and neighbors work to clean out the house (Celia’s aunt had been a hoarder) and renovate it. Very enjoyable story.

A whole bunch of shorter Christian romances by Jennifer Rodewald: the entire Murphy Brothers series: Always You, In Spite of Ourselves, Everything Behind Us, and This Life. Good stories, quick reads, about a (mostly) close-knit family. In several of them, the brothers meet and fall for their future wives in strange (and often unrealistic) circumstances. But it’s fun reading.

YA/Children’s

I got on a classic children’s-book kick thanks to a conversation with a friend, so I read Little Plum by Rumer Godden and then followed it up with my all-time favorite of her children’s books, The Diddakoi. Some things never change, I guess: both books deal with the topics of bullying and friendship. Little Plum is the story of an active family living next door to a vacant house, and the difficulties of making friends with the new little girl on the block, whose mother is hospitalized. In The Diddakoi, a gypsy child who is continually bullied by her schoolmates is alone after the death of her grandmother, and the citizens of a town who never welcomed her must arrange for her care.

Bubbles by Abby Cooper has a terrific premise that I’d find a little terrifying: 12-year-old Sophie discovers that sometimes she can see what other people are thinking. Their thoughts appear above their heads in little cartoon bubbles. While she sometimes finds it useful, she discovers that it just adds to the stress she’s already experiencing: her mom’s recent breakup and job loss (both of which she blames herself for), friendship issues, and finding out that her best friend likes the same boy she does.

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord. A fun takeoff on You’ve Got Mail, but with high-school students, Twitter, and the New York City restaurant scene. Pepper’s parents have her running the social media for their fast-food chain. Jack goes to the same school, frequently drives Pepper crazy, and helps out at his family’s deli. It all gets ugly when Pepper’s family is accused of stealing a secret recipe from Jack’s family, and all during a social-media duel, Pepper and Jack make an anonymous connection online through a secret school app. (For older teens and adults.)

The Truth About Romantic Comedies by Sean C. McMurray. A romance written from a teenage boy’s point of view is already different – and this story was excellent. Timothy lives in a trailer park with his mother (a nurse) and grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s and cancer. He meets Rachel when she accompanies her mother to radiation treatments. When they learn that Rachel’s family will be moving soon, the two decide on an experiment to put every rom-com cliche to the test, with unexpected results. (For older teens and adults.)


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!

bookshelf with Catholic fiction titles

An Open Book: February 2021 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 read last month:

Fiction

When We Were Young and Brave by Hazel Gaynor.

An intense novel set in a boarding school in China during World War II. The students are children of British diplomats and missionaries, for the most part. Mainly focused on one student and one teacher who had met on the boat to the school, the novel follows the entire course of the war and the ways the Chinese nationals and those from other nations who lived in China suffered during the Japanese occupation. It’s a beautiful story of suffering and resilience, and you will need a very light read to follow it up.

Shadows of the White City (The Windy City Saga Book 2) by Jocelyn Green.

Sylvie, a single woman who had dedicated her life to caring for her parents and running the family business, takes in a motherless little girl. All goes well for about 12 years until teenage Rose goes missing during the Chicago World’s Fair. Crime rings, human trafficking, and the hand-to-mouth existence of many late 19th-century immigrants feature prominently in this story of what motherhood really means. Second in a series, but it’s a standalone.

Homestands by Sally Bradley.

I’m not a baseball fan, but I enjoyed this story! Baseball star Mike Connor runs into his ex-wife after he ruins yet another relationship, and discovers that he has a 5-year-old son he never knew about. The story got a little far-fetched as it went along, but it was well-told and an enjoyable read. It’s supposed to be Book 1 of a series, but I can’t find anything else from this author.

Lighter reads (blurbs courtesy of Amazon):

  • The Cupcake Dilemma by Jennifer Rodewald. “It all started with an extra assignment delegated to me at school right before Valentine’s Day… But before we get too far, let me begin by stating this clearly. I was voluntold.” A sweet, funny read.
  • Getting to Yes by Allie Pleiter. “Valentine’s Day is coming. It’s the perfect time for him to pop the question. She’s more than ready, he’s trying to get ready, so why would God throw obstacle after obstacle into the mix?”
  • Change of Heart by Courtney Walsh. “When a public scandal upends Evelyn Brandt’s neatly constructed life, she’s launched on a journey of self-discovery. She finds a new start in the most unlikely place—a picturesque Colorado farm, owned by her estranged friend, Trevor Whitney. Trevor’s unexpected kindness pushes Evelyn to reclaim her dreams, but it also leaves her with many questions, and he’s never been one for sharing.”

YA/Children’s

Middle-grade mystery fans (about age 10 and up) will enjoy The Haunted Cathedral, Book 2 in the Harwood Mysteries series.

Set in 12th-century England, this story can be read as a standalone. Author Antony Barone Kolenc has crafted a compelling mystery featuring Xan, a 12-year-old orphan who has been in the care of a monastery for about a year. When he is forced to travel to the city of Lincoln with Carlo, who was involved in Xan’s parents’ death, Xan faces multiple obstacles that challenge him to forgive — and he learns firsthand the consequences for himself and others when he withholds forgiveness. (Advance review copy received from publisher.)

Catholic Teen Books’ Treasures: Visible and Invisible is the third in a series of short-story collections from a group of 8 authors in various genres.

Unlike the other collections, this one almost feels like a novel because all the stories are linked by a single significant object that passes from the time of St. Patrick into a dystopian future. (Full review coming soon; advance review copy received from the authors.)

Nonfiction

Be Bold in the Broken: How I Found My Courage and Purpose in God’s Unconditional Love by Mary Lenaburg.

I found myself nodding “yes” to so much of what the author says in this book. Mary and I are polar opposites in terms of personality, but I could see myself in quite a few of the personal anecdotes she shared. If you’ve ever felt like you just don’t fit and start questioning what you’re even doing here, this book is for you. (Advance review copy received from publisher; releases March 12)

The Big Hustle: A Boston Street Kid’s Story of Addiction and Redemption by Jim Wahlberg.

This was a gritty, open look at a young man’s path into addiction, crime, and prison, then to faith and a chance at a new life dedicated to helping others in recovery.


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 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz

bookshelf with Catholic fiction titles

An Open Book: February 2021

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

The Light of Tara: A Novel of St. Patrick by John Desjarlais. It’s easy to lose yourself in the story of St. Patrick, as told in this historical novel by John Desjarlais. The writing is poetic and you’ll feel as if you’re part of every scene. Desjarlais makes masterful use of dialogue and biblical parallels. Highly recommended. (ARC received from author; longer article coming in March)

The Castleton String Quartet Series by Maddie Evans

This 3-novel series plus a prequel is an excellent sweet romance series suitable for readers high-school age and up. The series tells the story of a string quartet that has grown out of a renowned family-run music school; most main characters in the novels are either children of the school’s founders or star students. Bob Castleton’s rapidly progressing dementia is a family crisis affecting each character deeply as the series goes on. Read in order for best results. A few crossover characters from the author’s Brighthead Running Club series make an appearance, which is a fun touch. (ARCs received from author)

The Rose Keeper by Jennifer Lamont Leo. Clara, a single nurse in midlife, harbors old hurts that prevent her from advancing her career or becoming close with anyone. A young wife of a soldier and her daughter become her neighbors, and slowly she finds a way to open up and let go of those past hurts. A sweet, captivating story of healing wounds and releasing burdens 3 decades old. Great secondary characters too. Highly recommended. (ARC received from author; this book will release mid-March)

Courting Peace by Lisa Lawmaster Hess. This book wraps up a series about strong women (and young women) finding their place in the world. While Marita puzzles over whether she has a future with the youth pastor, Bets finally appears to be settling down and Charli finds herself in the confusing stages of a first teenage love. Meanwhile, Angel wrestles with new parenthood and an absent husband, who’s aggravating even his doting family. I’ll miss the vivid characters from this series; it’s been a fun read.

Ellen Foster and The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons. Read these in order (it matters!). A heartbreaking story of a child living hand-to-mouth in appalling circumstances in the midcentury American South, the series continues with Ellen’s life as a teenager in a foster family, finding her way to fulfilling her dreams of a Harvard education.

YA/Children’s

The Circus of Stolen Dreams by Lorelei Savaryn. Yes, it’s for middle-grade kids, but don’t let that stop you. This book features beautiful prose and a compelling story. Andrea’s life hasn’t been the same since her brother disappeared; when she gets the chance to escape into the world of Reverie from the woods near her home, she jumps at it, only to discover that this dream world is not anything like it was promised to be. But she refuses to leave until she finds her brother.

Nonfiction

A Time to Seek: Meaning, Purpose, and Spirituality at Midlife by Susan Pohlman is a combination spiritual/travel memoir of a mom working to come to terms with her emptying nest. With the excuse of accompanying her college-age daughter to Florence to help her get settled for a semester abroad, Pohlman spends a week or so traveling the area alone: contemplating in cathedrals, chapels, and cemeteries; detouring to art museums; pondering her next steps and how her family relationships have changed. There are more questions than answers, but it’s a relatable memoir for moms in midlife. (ARC received from author)


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!) Although I’ll admit I haven’t really updated this since the fall.

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 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz

bookshelf with Catholic fiction titles

#OpenBook: My October 2020 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.

Sorry for the crazy big images, but free WordPress has forced me to use Blocks, and I can’t figure out how to put images into a paragraph in the size I want. (And at this point, I’m not in the mood to fight with it.)

Fiction

Things We Didn’t Say by Amy Lynn Green
I can never resist an epistolary novel and this is one of the best I’ve read. Chronicling just under a year in the life of a brilliant linguistics scholar toward the end of World War II, this story takes a hard look at our nation’s treatment of entire ethnic groups while we were at war with their native country. Effectively forced to work as a translator in a POW work camp in rural Minnesota, Jo Berglund, who had befriended an American young man of Japanese descent at the university, finds herself in an impossible position because of her insistence on seeing the German prisoners not as a collective enemy tool but as individual human beings. (Netgalley review)

The Christmas Table by Donna VanLiere (Christmas Hope, #10)
A poignant Christmas tale involving two families and one table. In 1972, a young husband begins building a kitchen table for his wife, who eagerly begins learning to cook using her mother’s memories. The table – with those same recipes still in the drawer – shows up in a secondhand furniture shop nearly five decades later, and its new owner is determined to get those recipes back to the family where they belong, learning a sad family story in the process. (Netgalley review)

The Words Between Us by Erin Bartels
Robin Windsor, who’s been living under a sort of self-imposed witness protection program since her parents were imprisoned while she was a teenager, finds her carefully protected life upended when she begins receiving books related to a time in her life she’d rather forget. As she strives to save her struggling indie bookshop, she endeavors to preserve her anonymity and keep old memories from taking over. A compelling story I’d be happy to reread.

The Dress Shop on King Street (Heirloom Secrets #1) by Ashley Clark
A vintage gown, two antique buttons, and an embroidered flour sack are the only clues to a mystery involving a biracial slave girl sold away from her mother at the age of 9, a young woman in the post-WWII South trying to pass as white, and a present-day college student trying to make it as a fashion designer. Two sweet love stories and heartbreaking family secrets make this a tough book to put down. (Netgalley review; releases 12/1)

Circle of Quilters (Elm Creek Quilts #9) by Jennifer Chiaverini
This was my first time dipping back into the Elm Creek Quilts series in several years. The author skillfully interweaves the stories of a group of applicants vying for two open teaching positions at the Elm Creek Quilt retreat. An enjoyable novel (and series) with characters who are talented, but who show their human side. Definitely requires the reader to be familiar with the series.

YA/Children’s

I’m a Saint in the Making by Lisa M. Hendey, illustrated by Katie Broussard
This children’s book has a message for grownups as well as kids: saints are superheroes, and we are called by God to be heroes too. Every saint is both a role model and a prayer champion, Lisa maintains, and in language simple enough for kids (without ever talking down to them) she demonstrates how they can strive for both those goals in their everyday lives. A wonderful variety of saints, from the days of the early Church through modern times, is represented. Illustrations are fun, inclusive, and engaging, and include many wonderful details about the saints discussed in the book.

The Spider Who Saved Christmas by Raymond Arroyo, illustrated by Randy Gallegos.
Readers familiar with Charlotte’s Web will enjoy another story in which a friendly spider selflessly takes risks to save someone else. Unlike most stories that feature “saves Christmas” in their title, The Spider Who Saved Christmas isn’t about removing obstacles that threaten to prevent Santa’s delivery of gifts to children. Instead, it’s about a lowly creature willingly accepting a dangerous mission to save the Son of God. Not only does this book tell a wonderful story, it’s an excellent catechetical tool for the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Read my full review.

Nonfiction

Let Go of Anger and Stress! Be Transformed by the Fruits of the Holy Spirit by Gary Zimak.
This book explores each of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit (found in Galatians 5:22-23) and demonstrates how living out the Fruits of the Spirit in mind can change our lives. Anger and stress are the opposite of the Fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control), and Gary discusses how yielding control of our lives to the Holy Spirit will give us the grace to resist the temptation to give in to stress and anger. (Review copy provided by publisher.) Read my full review.

Complaints of the Saints: Stumbling Upon Holiness with a Crabby Mystic by Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP.
With each of the 66 chapters running just over two pages, Complaints of the Saints is an excellent spiritual read for people who don’t think they have time for spiritual reading. The last section of the book emphasizes our call to do better: to follow the holy example of the saints who, we have seen throughout the book, have lived with difficulties and challenges and learned to handle those with grace. Sr. Mary Lea offers concrete ideas at the end of each chapter that will help us channel our negativity in a better direction. (Review copy provided by publisher.) 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!

An Open Book: October 2020

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. It’s been a long time since I participated in this fun event, so I’m going to cherry-pick the best of what I’ve read this summer.

Fiction

I couldn’t put Love and a Little White Lie by Tammy L. Gray down. It’s a really fun read about a woman who tries to “pass” as a Christian to keep a temp job at a church after a bad breakup – and then realizes that the role she’s playing might cost her a relationship with one of the musicians at the same church. And all the while, there’s the landscape architect who seems to always be around and who’s picked up on her secret. Every little detail adds up to a wonderful story – I’ll look for more from this author.

Debut novelist Brendan Hodge, in If You Can Get It (Ignatius Press), tells the story of a high-powered fashion executive whose confused younger sister’s arrival in her luxury apartment is the catalyst for a reexamination of her career goals and, ultimately, what she wants out of life. Neither sister knows what to make of their parents’ newfound religious fervor, and Jen chases after power and money in a new job that requires her to look the other way at bad business dealings and worse after-hours behavior. A new start in a less-glamorous position close to her parents’ Midwestern home provides Jen the opportunity to ponder what she really wants out of life, even as her sister Katie happily determines her own life path. If You Can Get It is an engaging read that explores the consequences of the single-minded pursuit of success at the expense of faith, family, friendship, and love. There’s a bit of a surprise at the end — and it’s very satisfying. (Review copy received from publisher.)

I almost let the first page deter me from reading Mrs. Saint and the Defectives by Julie Lawson Timmer. Glad I stuck with this story of a newly single mom struggling to make it outside the lifestyle to which she and her highly leveraged ex had been accustomed. Mrs. Saint, the meddlesome woman next door who inexplicably has seemingly incompetent people working for her, is charmingly mysterious and excels at pushing people to reach their potential. You’ll need to suspend disbelief in a big way while you read this, but the characters are wonderful and the novel is truly entertaining.

Bette Lee Crosby’s latest, A Million Little Lies, is set 60 years in the past (or so) but the theme is timeless: what happens when you tell one lie to try to bring about some good, then have to protect yourself by telling more and more lies, until even you begin to forget what the truth is. Susanna, escaping an abusive relationship with her young daughter, sneaks into a crowded funeral hoping for a free meal – and winds up being mistaken for the long-lost granddaughter of the deceased. Going along with that seems to be the best idea at the time for herself and her little girl, but the truth will have to catch up with her at some point.

 

YA/Children’s

Theoni Bell’s The Woman in the Trees, the story of Slainie, a young immigrant girl from Belgium who meets visionary Adele Brise in Wisconsin and learns about Our Lady of Good Hope (the only approved Marian apparition in the USA) will appeal to middle school students as well as adult readers. Set roughly at the same time as Little House in the Big Woods (and not too far away), this novel details the struggles of the immigrants in that time and place, including the Peshtigo fire, a forest fire that devastated their community, all as seen through the eyes of a young girl, beginning when she was only four years old and continuing through her teenage years.

 

 

Nonfiction

I picked up The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore when I discovered it was set in my home state of New Jersey. This was a long book (500+ pages) and very detailed about America’s fascination with the glowing element. Teenage girls and young women were hired to paint watch faces with radium so they would glow; they spread the spare paint on their fingernails, and because they put the paintbrushes in their mouths to shape a point on the bristles, wound up ingesting the carcinogen that caused horrifying physical effects within only a few years. There’s quite a bit of graphic medical information included here, so if that’s not your thing, you might want to skip this one.

I’m in the middle of a new cookbook right now: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat. This cookbook is less about the recipes and more about the science behind cooking, and I am spellbound by what I’m learning. There are pull-out charts, such as a continuum of acidity for common ingredients (lime juice is the winner on the high-acid end!) and a wheel of oils and fats organized by region (don’t cook Asian food in olive oil). There is so much to be learned about science and technique, and it’s presented in a very engaging way. I’m keeping this one on the coffee table so I can page through it and soak up the information.

 

 


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 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

An Open Book: May 2020 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

wartime sistersThe Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman.

5 stars (out of 5)

A lifetime of sibling rivalry comes to a head when little sister Millie and her young child arrive in Ruth’s new hometown, in need of a job and a place to live. Tired of being overshadowed by her pretty sister, Ruth refuses to break down the walls of resentment that have built up over the years, until it becomes obvious that Millie’s life is in danger. Set during World War II, at Springfield Armory in Massachusetts, where many civilians, including young mothers, worked ’round the clock on behalf of the war effort.

5th Avenue Story SocietyThe Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck.

4 stars (out of 5)

An unlikely group of people (an Uber driver, an apartment super, a literature professor behind on his PhD thesis, a cosmetics heiress, and an executive assistant with C-suite aspirations) receive mysterious invitations to a secret literary society at a local library. Curious, they all show up, and connect in ways that go far beyond literature.

Mr PenumbraMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

4 stars (out of 5)

 

Clay takes an overnight job in a hole-in-the-wall bookstore that quickly proves to be more than it initially appears. He draws upon his own technical knowledge and his roommates’ and friends’ abilities and professional contacts to uncover the mystery behind his secretive employer and the very unusual customers who frequent the shop. Well-written and will appeal to readers with technical backgrounds.

book charmerThe Book Charmer (Dove Pond #1) by Karen Hawkins.

4 stars (out of 5)

Dove Pond is an extraordinary small town that’s home to an extraordinary family, but this novel is really about another family. Planning on just a short stay, Grace, her aging foster mother who’s showing signs of dementia, and her orphaned niece move to town. Grace tries to protect her heart and remain disconnected, but the Dove sisters and other neighbors are determined to work their way in — except Trav, a physically and emotionally scarred Gulf War vet who lives next door. I’ll look for more by this author. (Netgalley review)

giver of starsThe Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes.

4 stars (out of 5)

I almost dumped this book early on. The first 3 chapters just didn’t grab me. But I’m glad I kept reading this surprising story of a British woman who married the son of a rich Kentucky mine owner and arrives in Appalachia not knowing what to expect. With a complicated relationship (central to the plot, and I won’t spoil it), she’s at odds in the household until an opportunity to help with a new WPA traveling library system arises. A compelling story of friendship, heartbreaking poverty, and a murder mystery.

 

YA/Children’s

FS front coverFire Starters by Theresa Linden.

5 stars (out of 5)

The teenage characters in Theresa Linden’s West Brothers series grapple with tough issues as they grow in faith. This novel centers on the sacrament of Confirmation, the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, and whether a person must feel ready before they can receive grace. This novel is a great read for teens in youth groups or sacrament prep. Read my full review and interview with the author.

Nonfiction

radical saintsRadical Saints by Melanie Rigney.

5 stars (out of 5)

Melanie Rigney introduces 21 saints who endured much and persevered in their commitment to God’s call in their lives. What makes these saints radical is not extreme beliefs or practices; it’s simply that they chose to love God and their neighbor without reserve. Anecdotes about Melanie’s contemporaries who embody the same values as these saints reinforce the concept that everyday women can embody the same gifts that the saints do. Let the radical saints of the 20th century inspire you to face the challenges in your lifetime. (ARC received from publisher for endorsement.)

i heard god laughI Heard God Laugh: A Practical Guide to Life’s Essential Daily Habit by Matthew Kelly.

4 stars (out of 5)

An introduction to prayer, written in an engaging style for a Catholic audience that’s not necessarily engaged in spiritual life or regular worship. (ARC provided by publisher; longer review to come. Available August 15, 2020.)

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: April 2020 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

subway girlsThe Subway Girls by Suzie Orman Schnall. The stories of a modern-day advertising executive and a postwar coed with big dreams intersect in this dual-timeline novel based on a real advertising campaign for New York’s mass-transit system. Seeking a fresh advertising angle, Olivia comes across records of the Subway Girls ad campaign and seeks to reinvent the concept. In the late 1940s, Charlotte chased her dreams of making it big in the advertising world, bypassing the typing pool in favor of an appearance on subway posters in the hopes of helping her family’s business and escaping family obligations. A little predictable, but an enjoyable novel.

victorias warVictoria’s War by Catherine A. Hamilton. A Polish Catholic teenager struggles to survive, keep her faith, and help others during World War II. Captured by Nazis, Victoria was sold as a slave to work in a German bakery, where the deaf daughter of the proprietors has already faced abuse due to the Nazi eugenics policy and regularly finds ways to assist pregnant women in labor camps and women captured as sex slaves. An intense novel filled with strong female characters.(Netgalley review; coming June 2020)

moondrop miracleMoondrop Miracle by Jennifer Lamont Leo. In 1928 a young socialite married an up-and-coming financier who loses his own fortune in the 1929 crash, along with that of many of his friends. Left to fend for herself with a baby on the way, Connie decides to market and manufacture the skin-care tonic her eccentric aunt invented (the recipe was given to Connie as a wedding gift). A cottage industry slowly develops into a skin-care empire in this well-told tale that paints a vivid picture of the mid-twentieth century. (Advance review copy received from author.)

logging offLogging Off by Nick Spalding. Andy Bellows is addicted to his cell phone, and his doctor recommends a total detox. Afraid he won’t be able to stick to the plan on his own, Andy agrees to let his journalist friend chronicle his digital detox journey. The results are hilarious. In the middle of a blind date gone terribly wrong, Andy befriends a barista who also wants to disconnect from her phone. Spalding’s tendency toward hyperbole keeps the story rolling along. Spot-on observations about what too much tech does to people, and a laugh-out-loud skewering of fake Instagram influencers. Very funny British fiction, with a generous sprinkling of f-bombs. (Netgalley review)

sweethaven summerA Sweethaven Summer by Courtney Walsh. Following her mother’s death, Campbell finds pages from an old scrapbook that lead her to reconnect with several of her mom’s childhood friends, hoping to get answers about her father’s identity. Old wounds from everyone’s past are reopened when the friends reunite in the resort community where they’d all spent their summers as teenagers. There’s a hint of a romance to come; I’m wondering if it might be part of the second book in the series — and I do intend to read that second book, because I truly did enjoy these characters and the charming small-town setting of the story. A good girlfriend novel that would make a fun, clean beach read.

barefoot summerBarefoot Summer (A Chapel Springs Romance Book 1) by Denise Hunter. This was an intense story about fear and forgiveness. Madison has dedicated herself to fulfilling her deceased twin brother’s lifelong dream: to win a local regatta before their 27th birthday. But because her brother died by drowning, she’s fearful of water and doesn’t know how to sail. And her swimming and sailing lessons wind up being with Beckett, the very man she blames for her brother’s death. As the regatta approaches, stress takes its toll on Madison and threatens her job. The book definitely had its predictable moments, and Beckett seemed to be too good to be true (even with his wrong-side-of-the-tracks origins) but it’s a good escape read.

loves trialLove’s Trial (First Street Church Romance Book 5) by Melissa Storm. I wasn’t a fan – at all – of Sally, the main character in this novel. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to like her; she’s spent most of her life and all her time in Sweet Grove pushing people away, but wishing she had friends. When the restaurant owner’s grandson, Toby, tries clumsily to flirt with her, she is so rude that I was amazed that he tried again to get to know her. But underneath the prickly character and rough beginning (this was so not a meet-cute) there was a worthwhile story about two wounded people who were both dealing with elders in their life with difficult conditions: one with severe agoraphobia and one with a disease that could be treated but who was too stubborn to take the medicine. It helps to have read other books in the series, but it’s not entirely necessary.

YA/Children’s

brother francisBrother Francis of Assisi by Tomie de Paola. Tomie de Paola was one of my favorite author/illustrators. His books aren’t for the youngest reader, but they’re wonderful read-alouds complemented by beautiful watercolor artwork. Tomie de Paola’s strength was in telling the stories of ordinary days, and in Brother Francis of Assisi, de Paola shines in depicting the everyday holiness of the extraordinary saint of Assisi. The book, newly re-released by Magnificat/Ignatius, offers vignettes about the life of St. Francis and his companions, with text on one page and the story on the other — the full episode on a single two-page spread. The story emphasizes simplicity, devotion, and reverence, and does not portray St. Francis as a political figure or activist. The book concludes with “The Song to the Sun,” which is popularly known as the “Canticle of the Creatures.” (Review copy received from publisher.)

drawing godFor children who enjoy art as much as (or more than) the story, Karen Kiefer’s picture book Drawing God (Paraclete Press) is just right. Kathy De Wit illustrated this book about a child who wants to draw something “beyond spectacular” and decides to draw pictures of God. Break out the art supplies and let your children’s imaginations take over as you encourage them to draw God after reading this story together. At the end of the book, the author offers five ways to bring the lessons in this story to life in your home, classroom, and heart. (Review copy received from publisher.)

Nonfiction

overcommittedOvercommitted: Cut Chaos and Find Balance by Rachel Balducci. This book is perfect for any mom who has too much on her plate, whether or not she works outside the home (maybe in these coronavirus days we need a new phrase for this?). Rachel Balducci candidly shares her own struggles with taking on too much and offers advice for evaluating commitments, making decisions, being willing to serve, and dealing with worry and fear. Each chapter ends with three tips, a personal reflection section that would make great journal prompts, a prayer tip, and a prayer starter. Highly recommended. I want to go through it again with a journal and highlighter close by.


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 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: March 2020 Binge Reads

Open Book logo -f
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