An Open Book: Best Reads of 2021

It’s time to wrap up the 2021 reads with a “Best Of” roundup. I haven’t been great at keeping up with Goodreads this year, or keeping any kind of records of what I read last year. If it weren’t for my Kindle (which lets me see what’s been completed) and the pile of nonfiction books in my office, I’d be even harder pressed to come up with a list.

In no particular order, here are the most memorable books of 2021.

Best Saint Book

Saintly Moms: 25 Stories of Holiness by Kelly Ann Guest

Moms need friends to inspire us in our vocation, no matter what our stage of motherhood. Kelly Guest’s book introduces you to 25 saintly friends to encourage you in the challenges of parenting. Meet a new holy BFF, and gain a fresh perspective on familiar motherly saints. Saints highlighted in this book include the Blessed Mother, St. Monica, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Rita of Cascia, Venerable Margaret Bosco, St. Gianna Molla, and more, and for the most part are arranged in chronological order. (Advance copy received from publisher; full review coming soon. Really. I promise.)

 

Best Spiritual Self-Help

All Things New: Breaking the Cycle and Raising a Joyful Family by Erin McCole Cupp

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. 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. (Read my full review. Advance copy received from publisher.)

 

So Good I’m Reading It Again

Grace in TensionGrace in Tension: Discover Peace with Martha and Mary by Claire McGarry

For Catholic women who, like me, deeply identify with Martha in her worry and distraction, Claire’s balanced discussion of how busy women can learn to sit at the feet of Jesus is both a challenge and a gift. Learn to find the grace amid your daily cares and burdens. When we think about the story of Mary and Martha, it’s very easy to fall into the “Martha bad, Mary good” trap. Claire does not do that in Grace in Tension (and that’s why I’m reading the book for a second time). I probably can’t change my tendencies, but as Claire encourages readers, I can — and should — derail the anxiety and worry that I often allow to carry me away from the joy of the moment. By taking steps like choosing a new response, drawing healthy boundaries, asking for help (and accepting it without judging), and adjusting expectations, in addition to the 10 other steps Claire outlines in this book, I can find the gifts God has for me in the moments where He has placed me. (Read my full review. Advance copy received from publisher.)

The Daily Devotional I Actually Read Daily

In Caelo et in Terra by the Daughters of St. Paul, illustrations by Sr. Danielle Victoria, FSP

This big, beautiful book of the saints is a collaborative effort of the Daughters of St. Paul, often nicknamed the “media nuns.” Their mission is to spread God’s word and make disciples through a variety of media, including writing and publishing. In Caelo et in Terra features a saint for each day (and contrary to the subtitle, they’ve covered February 29 as well). As the book is larger than an average hardcover (about 7X10 inches), there’s plenty of space to include two substantial paragraphs about the life of each day’s saint on the page, along with a short reflection (with a great journaling prompt) and a prayer. Information on the saint’s patronage and feast day are included. You’ll also find a robust index, which lists the saints by name, liturgical feast day, and patronage – so this is a reference book as well as a devotional. Each page is beautifully embellished not only with designs of leaves and clouds, which symbolize earth and heaven, but also with drawings of the saint of the day or sacred symbols related to that saint. The interior art, by Sr. Danielle VIctoria Lussier, FSP (who also designed the cover), is done in a consistent style that is simple and beautiful without being distracting.

 

Best Series for Teens

Friends in High Places series by Corinna Turner

The Boy Who Knew: Friends in High Places #1

Old Men Don’t Walk to Egypt: Friends in High Places #2

Child, Unwanted; Friends in High Places #3

This novella series features relatable stories with memorable characters in real-life situations. This series combines compelling fiction with facts about saints whose lives and actions can inspire teens today: Blessed Carlo Acutis, St. Joseph, and St. Margaret of Castello. These novellas are appropriate for readers 12 and up.

Most Relatable Character

A Song for the Road by Kathleen M. Basi

I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel where I’ve identified so deeply with a character as I did with Miriam Tedesco, who undertook a cross-country road trip a year after the death of her husband and their twin teenagers in order to handle some unfinished business that was deepening her grief. It wasn’t so much Miriam’s circumstances as it was her personality that I related to: she reacted to things in much the same way I do. Along the way, Miriam encountered a young pregnant woman traveling alone and clearly hiding a medical secret. Outside of a few misses in the Catholic details (Miriam was the music director at a Catholic church) this was a flawless read.

Based on a True Story

Where Angels Pass coverWhere Angels Pass by Ellen Gable

Ellen Gable’s newest novel, based on her own father’s experience of sexual abuse at the hands of a predator priest and her own experience of the consequences in his life, is difficult to witness. But we owe it to victims of clergy sexual abuse to listen to their stories. Listening, understanding, and awareness of warning signs are steps toward preventing such occurrences in the future. Ellen is to be commended for her courage and honesty in bringing this story to light. Where Angels Pass is not an easy read – but it’s an important one. (Read my full review.)

Catholic Fiction

In Pieces by Rhonda OrtizIn Pieces by Rhonda Ortiz

In this richly detailed post-Revolutionary War love story, Rhonda Ortiz transports the reader to 18th-century Boston. Molly Chase, the beautiful and talented only child of a prominent Boston fabric merchant, suffers nightmares and other mental-health challenges after discovering her father’s body following his suicide. Readers will cheer for the strong female characters and the smitten, determined hero who battle rigid social expectations and a villain you’ll love to hate. A King David-style conflict, a Custom-House mystery, some PTSD, and even a little espionage make In Pieces a novel you won’t be able to put down. At one point when I was reading this book, I emailed the author and said, “Did so-and-so seriously just …” (I can’t tell you more, because I don’t want to spoil the fun!). This novel is even better the second time around! (Read my full review.)

Horror

Jennifer the Damned by Karen Ullo

This is not at all the kind of book I usually read. I don’t touch horror or vampire fiction at all. It is a testament to Karen Ullo’s skill as a writer that I stuck with this book beyond the first 2 chapters – and more than that, couldn’t wait to keep reading. Normally I think of horror books as about as anti-Catholic as they can be, with religion either anathema or afterthought or, at best, superstition. But this is a very, very Catholic book, dealing with themes of conscience, our immortal souls, and the overarching power of the sacraments. The many sides of the title character are well explored: Jennifer as vampire, Jennifer as teenager trying to fit into that world, Jennifer as a child abandoned by her mother (and clearly traumatized by the facts of her own situation and what her mother has taught her), Jennifer as a young woman raised in a convent by religious sisters who don’t know the whole story.

 

Strongest Book Hangover

Spirit of the Violinists by Maddie Evans (Castleton String Quartet, #3)

Maddie Evans saved the best for last in this final novel of the Castleton String Quartet series. Longtime musical rivals Lindsey and Jason vie for the leadership position in the quartet, even as Lindsey dreads her father’s final days and the two violinists discover a bond they didn’t know they had. A peek at the vulnerability Jason never shows sheds new light on his character, both for Lindsey and the reader. Keep tissues handy for the most beautiful funeral I’ve ever seen in a book. (That’s not a spoiler, BTW, if you look at the blurb offered by the author.) ARC provided by author.

I highly recommend you read the full series, in order. Some fun elements: there are characters from the author’s Brighthead Running Club Romances who make appearances in these books, Maddie Evans is unparalleled in writing clever banter, and the musician in me enjoyed a series featuring musicians and a music school.

 

Best Christmas Road-Trip Read

A Cross-Country Christmas by Courtney Walsh

If this book doesn’t make you want to take a road trip, nothing will. Courtney Walsh’s Christmas romance brings together a Hollywood set decorator who tries her hardest to avoid all things Christmas and her childhood crush. The two embark on a road trip from California to Illinois, and despite Lauren’s bad attitude and rude demeanor right from the first mile, you’ll find yourself rooting them on. She’s no fan of Christmas. He is. Find out why in this fun, sweet read. And how cute is this cover?

 

Most Likely to Make a Great Movie

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. Yes, this is kind of a meta choice for this category, since the book is about life in Hollywood in the heyday of the movie era, but I’d watch it just for the costumes, architecture, and cars! I’m hoping there will be another novel about some of these characters.

 

Best Title

Sweet Jesus, Is It June Yet? 10 Ways the Gospels Can Help You Combat Teacher Burnout and Rediscover Your Passion for Teaching by Amy J. Cattapan

Written for new and veteran teachers alike, this book is the perfect read for anytime in the school year, offering Bible-based strategies teachers can use to battle discouragement, stress, and burnout. In August, I interviewed the author about this book; I asked whether feelings of burnout make you a bad teacher, what you can do to combat faculty-room cynicism, and which chapters are most beneficial to teachers feeling extra stress due to the pandemic. Traditional publishers don’t usually allow authors to title their own books, and this book’s title is the exception to that rule. I recommend it for anyone involved in education.

At the Top of the TBR

Mysterion: The Revelatory Power of the Sacramental Worldview by Fr. Harrison Ayre

The Catholic Wedding Planner, coming soon from Our Sunday Visitor. You’ll get my Mother-of-the-Bride perspective on this one!

If I Were You by Lynn Austin


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image: Stencil

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 more of what I’ve read recently (even the duds!)

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. On January 5, you can 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 autumn

An Open Book: October 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

Jennifer the Damned by Karen Ullo. This is not at all the kind of book I usually read. I don’t touch horror or vampire fiction at all. It is a testament to Karen Ullo’s skill as a writer that I stuck with this book beyond the first 2 chapters – and more than that, couldn’t wait to keep reading. Normally I think of horror books as about as anti-Catholic as they can be, with religion either anathema or afterthought or, at best, superstition. But this is a very, very Catholic book, dealing with themes of conscience, our immortal souls, and the overarching power of the sacraments. The many sides of the title character are well explored: Jennifer as vampire, Jennifer as teenager trying to fit into that world, Jennifer as a child abandoned by her mother (and clearly traumatized by the facts of her own situation and what her mother has taught her), Jennifer as a young woman raised in a convent by religious sisters who don’t know the whole story.

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan. A World War II novel of the British home front. This book really brought home the kinds of deprivations citizens of the UK suffered during the war. Two sisters, a servant, and a professional chef compete for the opportunity to host a radio show helping homemakers work around food shortages and serve nutritious and good-tasting food to their family. All of them face threats to their way of life, and their stories intertwine in interesting and surprising ways. The book includes recipes, but except for the scones, I’ll pass (sheep’s head roll? no way). This was an enjoyable story, with an ending you won’t see coming.

A Freedom Such as Heaven Intended by Amanda Lauer. The latest “Heaven Intended” book, set in the same timeline as A Life Such as Heaven Intended, follows a group of runaway slaves as they begin a perilous and uncertain journey to freedom. Plenty of historical detail leaves the reader immersed in the world of Civil War-era Georgia, as characters struggle to discern whether to risk their lives in the service of others. Faith plays a role, in often surprising ways, in the twists and turns of the plot of this compelling novel. (Advance copy provided by the author.)

A Song for the Road by Kathleen M. Basi. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel where I’ve identified so deeply with a character as I did with Miriam Tedesco, who undertook a cross-country road trip a year after the death of her husband and their twin teenagers in order to handle some unfinished business that was deepening her grief. It wasn’t so much Miriam’s circumstances as it was her personality that I related to: she reacted to things in much the same way I do. Along the way, Miriam encountered a young pregnant woman traveling alone and clearly hiding a medical secret. Outside of a few misses in the Catholic details (Miriam was the music director at a Catholic church) this was a flawless read.

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline. A young woman, physically handicapped due to a mysterious childhood illness (rheumatic fever or polio?), lives in an isolated area of coastal Maine. Artist Andrew Wyeth used her as the inspiration for a famous painting, as she hosted him in the summer for two entire decades, even as her own isolation and physical limitations made the scope of her world no larger than her own living room. This is the kind of book you wish would go on forever – and at 352 pages, it’s good and long already – perfect for a long winter’s read!

The Fault Between Us by Bette Lee Crosby. Historical fiction about the San Francisco Earthquake. Templeton, a driven young woman from Philadelphia who wants nothing more than to create her own fashion line, has a whirlwind romance with a man from California, who marries her and brings her to his grand home in San Francisco. Templeton throws herself into fulfilling her professional ambitions, leaving ideas about family life to the side until tragedy strikes: while she is back in Philadelphia visiting family and experiencing a complicated pregnancy, the earthquake devastates her neighborhood, and her father makes a perilous journey to California to try to find Templeton’s husband. I couldn’t put this one down.

 

YA/Children’s

Dare to be MoreDare to be More: The Witness of Blessed Carlo Acutis by Colleen and Matt Swaim. The 48-page book contains photos of Carlo Acutis throughout his life: as a young child, in kindergarten, building a snowman, praying in an Adoration chapel, and even with his puppy and his soccer team. The book, appropriate for readers 10 and up, discusses the many ways this teenager changed others’ lives for the better. The Swaims explain the Church’s process of declaring someone a saint and describe the miraculous healing of a child in Brazil, healing that has been attributed to the intercession of Carlo Acutis. This led to Acutis’ beatification in October 2020. (Advance copy received from publisher. Read my full review.)

 

Nonfiction

Saintly Moms: 25 Stories of Holiness by Kelly Ann Guest. Moms need friends to inspire us in our vocation, no matter what our stage of motherhood. Kelly Guest’s book introduces you to 25 saintly friends to encourage you in the challenges of parenting. Meet a new holy BFF, and gain a fresh perspective on familiar motherly saints. Saints highlighted in this book include the Blessed Mother, St. Monica, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Rita of Cascia, Venerable Margaret Bosco, St. Gianna Molla, and more, and for the most part are arranged in chronological order. (Advance copy received from publisher; full review coming soon.)

 

Behold the Handmaid of the Lord: A 10-Day Personal Retreat with St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary simplifies de Montfort’s approach without watering down its wisdom. The book, new from Ave Maria Press, is a do-it-yourself retreat that helps readers learn more about Marian consecration. Fr. Edward Looney dedicates each of the ten days of the retreat to a different title of Mary, consolidating teachings from True Devotion to Mary to clarify the rich writings and deepen devotion to the Blessed Mother. His writing style is clear and approachable, and both his scholarship and dedication to Mary are evident throughout the book. Each day’s chapter is 10 pages or less (in a small-format book; it measures just under 5×7 inches) and begins with a teaching on that day’s title of Mary, a prayer for the day, and a traditional Marian prayer or hymn. (Advance copy received from 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!

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewcz

Image: Stencil Pro

Open book autumn

An Open Book: October 2021

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. We’re not even going to talk about how long it’s been since I’ve done a real reading recap. Here’s a (very small) taste of what I’ve been reading:

Fiction

In Pieces by Rhonda OrtizIn Pieces by Rhonda Ortiz is a richly detailed post-Revolutionary War love story. Rhonda Ortiz transports the reader to 18th-century Boston in this well-told love story. Readers will cheer for the strong female characters and the smitten, determined hero who battle rigid social expectations and a villain you’ll love to hate. A King David-style conflict, a Custom-House mystery, some PTSD, and even a little espionage make In Pieces a novel you won’t be able to put down. At one point when I was reading this book, I emailed the author and said, “Did so-and-so seriously just …” (I can’t tell you more, because I don’t want to spoil the fun!). This novel is even better the second time around! (Advance review copy received from author. Full review coming soon.)

Life on the Grocery Line: A Frontline Experience in a Global Pandemic by Adam Jonathan Kaat. I’m honestly not sure if I should file this under “nonfiction” because it’s sort of a memoir/social commentary, but it’s a fictionalized memoir so I’m calling it fiction. It takes place during the first few weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, in March and April 2020. Daniel, a grocery cashier, describes the rapid pace of changes in store procedure, the stress and emotions store workers experienced and expressed as the pandemic began, and the attitudes and actions of store customers. I was interested in reading this book because I’m fascinated by food marketing in general, and because I wanted to see how authors are handling the topic of the global pandemic in their work. This is one of only two authors I’ve seen mention it so far. Although the author spends a lot of time calling out the well-heeled customers of an upscale grocery store for the way they treated store employees, I think snobbery goes both ways. He was very contemptuous of the customers. Be warned: the language in this book is fairly raw. (Advance review copy received from author.)

Mr. Nicholas: A Magical Christmas TaleMr. Nicholas by Christopher De Vinck. A sweet Christmas-themed novella. The title character is not the main character in this story of a young dad who doesn’t know how to relate to his 10-year-old son with Down syndrome, nor his artistic wife who has begun divorce proceedings. When his son JB becomes fascinated with Mr. Nicholas, the friendly but mysterious hardware store owner, Jim begins to look at the people around him with new eyes. And as Christmas approaches, some very interesting things start to happen around that hardware store. Who, exactly, is Mr. Nicholas? It seems like only a little boy knows the truth. A fun read! (Advance review copy received from publisher.)

Autumn by the SeaAutumn by the Sea (Muir Harbor #1) by Melissa Tagg. Sydney, abandoned as a toddler and on her own after aging out of foster care, is contacted by a private investigator who thinks she’s the long-lost granddaughter of an elderly woman who owns a blueberry farmer in Maine. The woman’s three adopted children, all young adults as well, are skeptical, but Sydney has to find out if there’s a true family connection. A sweet romance and exploration of family bonds.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. Edward feels like he’s anything but a “miracle boy,” as the sole survivor of the plane crash that killed his parents and older brother. At 12, he has to start over in a new town with his aunt and uncle, who grieve the same loss as well as their inability to have children. The story is told in split time, varying between a minute-by-minute account of the doomed flight and the back stories of some of the passengers, and the 6 years Edward spends in middle and high school in the suburbs, a time he gets through because of his friendship with the girl next door, Shay, who patiently helps him process his emotions as they go through the sacks of letters the “miracle boy” receives from total strangers, including many family members of other passengers on that flight who seek some sort of closure and intend to get it from him.

YA/Children’s

Old Men Don’t Walk to Egypt: Friends in High Places #2 by Corinna Turner. Katie has the boyfriend every girl wants, but he’s controlling and not at all nice to her. When Daniel, a social outcast, suggests Katie study St. Joseph for a school project, she wonders how relevant this saint could be to her life. A relatable story with memorable characters in real-life situations. This series combines compelling fiction with facts about saints whose lives and actions can inspire teens today. This novella is appropriate for readers 12 and up.

The Fire of Eden by Antony Barone Kolenc. Antony Kolenc’s third book in The Harwood Mysteries series of historical novels for readers 10 and up is a suspenseful novel set in 12th-century England. The Fire of Eden continues the story of Xan, a teenage orphan who lives with other orphans at a monastery. Parents and teachers will appreciate the 2-page readers guide, “How to read historical fiction,” at the front of the book, and the author has also provided a map of Xan’s world, a glossary of religious and historical terms, and an author’s historical note that explains Church and feudal practices of that time and place. In this story, an accident causes John, who’s been Xan’s nemesis in the monastery for quite some time, to lose his sight. Angry at his sudden dependence on those around him, John is more cruel than ever, but Xan is forced to cooperate with him as they seek to solve the mystery of a missing precious ruby belonging to a young monk who’s about to be ordained to the priesthood. Along the way, they encounter dishonest monks, traitorous guards, and a frightening magician who lives in the woods. This novel would make a very exciting movie! (Advance review copy received from publisher.)

The Case of the Campground Creature: Sisters of the Last Straw #7 by Karen Kelly Boyce. I will never miss a chance to read an installment of the Sisters of the Last Straw series by Karen Kelly Boyce (TAN Books). Written for young readers age 6 to 12, the characters in these chapter books form a community of religious sisters who struggle, not always successfully (but always hilariously), with bad habits. Even though they don’t succeed all the time, they do try to be patient with their own faults and those of others, and to help and encourage each other along the way. In The Case of the Campground Creature, the Sisters are given a camper and decide to take a much-needed vacation. When the camper breaks down on the way to their destination, they’re towed to a new campground while the repair shop waits for parts to fix the camper. But the new campground isn’t as welcoming as it seems at first: dark woods, strange noises, and a mysterious creature frighten the Sisters, most of whom have never camped before. You don’t have to read the books in this series in order. The Case of the Campground Creature would make a fun family (or classroom) read-aloud, especially at this time of year since the book has a spooky (but not too scary) theme. (Advance review copy received from publisher.)

Lucia of Fatima: Brave Hearts #3 by Kathryn Griffin Swegart is an excellent introduction to the story of the apparitions at Fatima. It is the third book in a series of children’s books about courageous Catholics whose faith changed their lives in extraordinary ways. 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. Lucia of Fatima is written for ages 10 and up, but would be a good read-aloud for age 7 and up. (Advance review copy received from author.)

In the Palace of the Great King by Julie Ash. This novel for middle-school readers and up follows two young girls as they try to make sense of their place in the world and God’s place in their hearts. In the Palace of the Great King explores themes of religious vocation, teenage pregnancy, poverty’s effects on the family, and the call to conversion. Three teens from two very different backgrounds meet when they take shelter in an urban church during a terrible storm. Char, who lives in the shadow of her younger sister Kayla, feels overcome by loneliness; Tia is overwhelmed by school, her job, and caring for her little brother when the adults in her life are unable to watch him after school. All three are changed after they stumble into that church, with Char struggling to make sense of her mother’s violent objections to religion and the prolife movement, and Tia wondering if God is calling her to join the community of nuns who welcomed the girls during the storm. Currently In the Palace of the Great King is available only on Kindle; a bound version is due out later this year. (Advance review copy received from author.)

Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte, illustrated by Ann Xu. I’m not a big fan of graphic novels, but this one caught my eye with its emphasis on cooking. Cici, who dearly misses the grandmother her family left behind when they moved to the USA from Taiwan, decides to enter a cooking contest for kids to earn the money for a plane ticket so her grandmother can visit. Determined to fit in even though she only knows how to cook Taiwanese food, Cici perseveres through the contest as well as school pressures and the challenges of making new friends in middle school. This was a well-told story of persistence, the importance of family, and true friendship.


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

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.

 

 


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

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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