#OpenBook: April 2019 Reads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Visit today’s #OpenBook post to join the linkup or just get some great ideas about what to read! You’ll find it at Carolyn Astfalk’s A Scribbler’s Heart and at CatholicMom.com!

open book logo

 


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

 

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#OpenBook: March 2019 Reads

open book logo

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:

Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

 

YA/Children’s

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

Nonfiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit today’s #OpenBook post to join the linkup or just get some great ideas about what to read! You’ll find it at Carolyn Astfalk’s A Scribbler’s Heart and at CatholicMom.com!


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: February 2019 Reads

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The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:

Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

her hope discovered

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

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

YA/Children’s

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

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

Nonfiction

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

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

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


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

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

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

Visit today’s #OpenBook post to join the linkup or just get some great ideas about what to read! You’ll find it at Carolyn Astfalk’s A Scribbler’s Heart and at CatholicMom.com!


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: January 2019 Reads

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

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

Fiction

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

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

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

YA/Children’s

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

Nonfiction

prairie fires

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


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

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

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

Visit today’s #OpenBook post to join the linkup or just get some great ideas about what to read! You’ll find it at Carolyn Astfalk’s A Scribbler’s Heart and at CatholicMom.com!


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#Open Book: December 2018 Reads

open book logo

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:

Christmas

where treetops glistenWhere Treetops Glisten by Tricia Goyer, Cara Putman, and Sarah Sundin: three linked Christmas romance novellas set during World War II. This was a lovely series with nearly-seamless storytelling; you couldn’t really tell that different authors were behind the three stories. Set in Lafayette, Indiana, these stores span several wartime Christmases and focus on the three Turner siblings and how the war has changed their lives.

designs on loveDesigns on Love by Myra Johnson. Unlike Johnson’s other books that I’ve recently read, this novella is a post-Civil-War tale set (mostly) in Texas. Vera leaves Philadelphia, where she’s studying fashion design, to return to her rural home town when she learns her family has succumbed to yellow fever. Ready and willing to help Vera pick up the pieces of her broken heart and failing family business is ranch hand Jacob, who’d had a crush on Vera since their school days.

perfect giftThe Perfect Gift by Elaine Manders. Macy, a pharmaceutical student about to graduate and take a job in a famous firm, is dating the boss’s son but has a secret: she’s not the society girl she pretends to be. She knows she needs to confess the truth before Christmas, but she also wants to give her boyfriend a gift that will convince his parents that she’s the right girl for him.

Fiction

hidden legacyThe Hidden Legacy by Carrie Sue Barnes. This story is told through the reminiscences of Annie, who leaves her Boston home and fiancé during World War I to serve as a nurse in France. She recounts her adventures to her granddaughter during her final illness — shedding light on a family secret that shocks Laurel, whose own love life is in turmoil as a new relationship is endangered by the return of an old flame.

her sisters shoes

Her Sister’s Shoes (Sweeney Sisters #1) by Ashley Farley. This is the first in a series, but I felt as if I’d missed some back story. Three sisters struggle to keep a family business afloat and keep their eyes on their mom, who shows signs of dementia, while each dealing with family crises of their own: an unfaithful husband, an abusive husband, and a depressed wheelchair-bound son. It was a LOT all at once.

children of main streetThe Children of Main Street by Merilyn Howton Marriott. Psychotherapist Katie Collier hadn’t planned on working with kids, but it always seems to turn out that way. Meanwhile, she and her husband grieve her infertility. When Katie begins letting some of the most broken, at-risk children stay in their home, her marriage begins to crumble. While I had questions about the ethical implications of some of Katie’s practices, I enjoyed the story.

it was mineIt was Mine by Jeanne Grunert. This novella is a George Bailey story that begins with a Twilight-Zone scene: Stanley, who’d given up an ambitious life plan to care for his aging parents, is a beloved retired teacher in his community. The ancient furnace his father installed in the family home is on the fritz, and Stanley meets a man posing as the furnace repairman who offers him the opportunity to find out what his life would have been like had he abandoned his family and followed his dreams. It’s not at all spooky, and the twist at the end is not to be missed.

keeping lucyKeeping Lucy by T. Greenwood. Her rich in-laws expect perfection, so when Ginny’s baby is born with Down Syndrome, the family whisks the child off to an institution. Two years later (1969), Ginny learns that this school is under investigation for mistreatment of the residents, and goes there to see for herself. She and her best friend Marsha wind up taking Lucy from the institution, then taking off to Florida with the toddler and Ginny’s six-year-old while they desperately try to figure out how to protect the child. An excellent suspense novel, coming August 2019. (Netgalley review)

wildflower heartWildflower Heart by Grace Greene. Kara is recovering physically and psychologically from the accident that claimed her husband’s life. Her father buys a house out in the country without explanation, and Kara is along for the ride, but she resolves not to get too settled in there. As she and her father begin to restore the old house, she finds herself healing not only from the trauma of the accident but from her mother’s death during Kara’s teen years, and learns more about her father’s own woundedness. A good story, but Kara seemed so remote, it was hard to care about what happened to her. Coming January 22. (Netgalley review)

i owe you oneI Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella. Fixie Farr tries to keep the family business from going under while her mother grieves her father’s death, her ambitious brother takes financial risks to make the business more upscale, and her ditzy sister insists on opening a yoga studio in the middle of the housewares store. Fixie’s infatuation with an old crush leads her to risk a relationship with a guy who could actually be good for her. As usual, Sophie Kinsella never disappoints. Coming February 5. (Netgalley review)

Nonfiction

make my life simpleRachel Balducci’s Make My Life Simple, published by Our Sunday Visitor, hits the sweet spot of memoir/tip book combination: it’s practical and encouraging without talking down to the reader. Three sections focus on practical peace (order within the home), personal order, and peace and order in our spiritual growth. This is not a long book, but you’ll want to spend a while reading it so you can let ideas sink in, or scribble in your notebook about it. Read my full review. (Advance review copy received from publisher.)

grace of enoughHaley Stewart’s The Grace of Enough: Pursuing less and living more in a throwaway culture, from Ave Maria Press, challenges readers to embrace simplicity in a way that works for them. We can’t all move to sustainable farms and raise our own chickens. We canall make big and small changes regarding how we pray, how much stuff we own, and how we spend our time. We can all find ways to savor family life, even if our husbands commute 50 miles each way instead of just down the road. Read my full review. (Advance review copy received from publisher.)

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

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

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

Visit today’s #OpenBook post to join the linkup or just get some great ideas about what to read! You’ll find it at Carolyn Astfalk’s A Scribbler’s Heart and at CatholicMom.com!


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: November 2018 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:

Christmas

It’s that time of the year, so I figured I might as well give these a category all their own! Some people watch Hallmark movies; I read Christmas novels. And novellas. And short stories.

gift of a lifetimeThe Gift of a Lifetime by Melissa Hill. A sweet novel for movie lovers. I’d made a list of rom-coms to watch by the time I finished reading it! Not very Christmas-y but labeled a Christmas novel, this is the story of Beth, an Irish emigrant working in the shoe department of a NYC store. Her suddenly-distant boyfriend is giving off a weird vibe, she meets a sweet guy at work, and she finds herself in a scavenger hunt around the city, following movie-themed clues that she thinks will lead her to true love.

christmas in evergreenChristmas in Evergreen by Nancy Naigle. This movie-to-book novel is a fun story of a young veterinarian in a town that’s all about Christmas. Allie plans to say goodbye to small-town life and head to DC where her ambitious boyfriend awaits. Time and again, things prevent her from leaving. Meanwhile, a widowed dad and his young daughter are headed to Florida to escape the sadness of Christmas after bereavement — and they can’t get out of Evergreen, either.

christmas at the heartbreak cafe

Christmas at the Heartbreak Cafe by Melissa Hill. Cafe owner Ella injures her ankle just before Christmas, and her plans for a townwide Christmas bash might have to be scuttled. Friends offer to pitch in, but then a letter is delivered that announces the end of her lease after 30 years. The solution is more than a little far-fetched, but it’s an enjoyable holiday read.

christmas mix upThe Christmas Mix Up (a children’s Christmas novel) by Justin Johnson. Penelope discovers she’s been put on Santa’s naughty list, and she knows it has to be a mistake. With only a week until Christmas, there’s no time to lose: she takes a train to the North Pole to meet with Santa and set things straight. This would be a fun read-aloud for parents and kids to enjoy together.

 

Fiction

magnolia laneOn Magnolia Lane (Blue Ridge #3) by Denise Hunter. Pastor Jack’s friends know he has a crush on Daisy, the florist, but that he doesn’t have the guts to ask her out — so they create an online dating profile using his nickname. Jack takes it from there, building an email relationship with Daisy even as his real-life feelings for her grow deeper, and hers for him. But a secret she’s keeping, and his secret about the dating profile, could ruin things for them for good. You can’t help rooting for these two.

hungerHunger (short story) by Jane Lebak and Elissa Strati. Horror is not a genre I read, but I’m a big fan of Jane Lebak so I gave this story a try. It’s not at all gory or graphic, and I was surprised to see how much the good vs. evil conflict really came into play in this story. Waitress Sarah stays at her job in a small-town diner to protect patrons from the hungry creature that seems to want to protect her — and that kills anyone who slights her in any way. Come for the pie; don’t hassle this waitress!

we never asked for wingsWe Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbach. You’ll be drawn deep into the world of a fatherless family struggling to make it in San Francisco after the grandparents’ returned to Mexico. High-school-student Alex is really the star of the novel, trying to straddle the world between his hardscrabble life where he must care for his young sister and the life he wishes he could have with the father he’s never known. A powerful read.

promise between us

The Promise Between Us by Barbara Claypoole White. Artist Katie Mack doesn’t realize right away that one of her art students is the child she abandoned as an infant because of her severe postpartum depression. Fighting her own compulsions, she notices that the girl shows definite signs of OCD. But to help her, she’d have to reveal to her ex that she’s seen the daughter she promised never to contact. The most intense novel I’ve read in years. I was in a crowded room, reading this, and someone approached me and called my name — I jumped a good foot in the air. Trigger warning: postpartum depression/psychosis and difficult, graphic birth scene.

lavender ribbonOne Lavender Ribbon by Heather Burch. Adrienne escapes an emotionally abusive marriage and throws herself into renovating a beach home in Florida. When she finds a bundle of love letters from World War II, she sets about locating their author — and then discovers that she wants to see him reunited with his lost love. But it’s complicated, and his grandson finds himself alternating between being annoyed by Adrienne and falling for her.

YA/Children’s

henry the green zebra pigHenry the Green Zebra-Pig by Christina Leigh Daly. “Not all works of art come in a frame.” Gently-colored drawings and rhyming text underscore the book’s message that everyone is precious, no matter what they look like. This book is a perfect bedtime story or classroom read-aloud.

dear evan hansenDear Evan Hansen: The Novel by Val Emmich. I requested this Netgalley because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about — my teenager and his friends are huge fans of the musical. I didn’t like the story: it’s based on deception. Evan Hansen, completing an assignment from his psychotherapist, has a note to himself stolen by Connor, who’s made a name for himself by making everyone around him miserable. After Connor’s suicide, the note is found and Evan perpetuates the myth that he and Connor were close friends, even dating Connor’s sister. I didn’t find any character to be sympathetic or even likable. (Netgalley review)

Nonfiction

catholic all yearThe Catholic All Year Compendium by Kendra Tierney. All the liturgical-living information you need is right here in one book. You won’t have to dig through the free calendar you pick up at church, five websites, and four books about the lives of the saints to find some ways to observe the Church’s feasts, fasts, and everything in between — and make them work for your family. Read my full review. (Review copy provided by the publisher)

 

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!

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Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: October 2018 Reads

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

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

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

Fiction

Tupelo Honey by Lis Anna-Langston. A powerful novel about a young girl whose mom’s drug addiction and extended family’s mental illness bring her eleven-year-old into situations no child should experience. Tupelo Honey, with her imaginary friend Moochi, does what she can to survive — bonding with drug dealers, hiding money from her schizophrenic uncle, and navigating the group-foster-care system. This kid shows guts in unbelievably awful circumstances.

The Ghosts of Faithful by Kaye Park Hinckley. Not your usual ghost story, Kaye Park Hinckley’s Southern Gothic novel takes place during a single week — Holy Week — and follows a family haunted not only by ghosts, but by each family member’s secrets, betrayals, and regrets. Acts of unspeakable violence, in the past and the present, are connected by the ghosts whose mission seems to be to enact justice, even when everyone’s lives, careers, and marriages seem to be falling apart. I received an advance review copy of this book from the author.

Chasing Someday (Home in You book 4) by Crystal Walton. Aspiring coffee-shop owner Livy keeps failing at relationships, so her best friend Chase offers to help her “practice date.” She’s the last one to see where this is going, choosing instead to focus on the famous local-boy-made-good who shows up when he feels like it, stands her up more often, and generally treats her badly. Chase is tired of being in the “friend zone” and wants to find a way to pursue his dream to restore classic cars so he can help support his aging dad — and that’s not something he can do locally. Mix in an aptly-named dog named Bandit for some comic relief and you get a really good story.

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Amy Matayo. Presley and Micah were across-the-street neighbors as kids, both living any child’s nightmare with abusive parents — and keeping each other’s secrets. Micah, as an adult, has decided to stick it to his abusive dad and runaway mom by getting out of town and making it big in the city. Presley’s dreams keep her close to home, in the small town Micah can’t wait to leave behind. The two are drawn to each other, but Micah is also drawn in by Mara, the new girl in the office who flouts company policy by dating Micah in an extremely public way — and Presley’s the only one who sees Mara’s true motives. Great suspense, plenty of twists and turns, and characters it’s not easy to forget.

Close to You by Kara Isaac. Allison has a Ph.D. but the guy she married was still married to his first wife, and he’s got all her money tied up in a bitter court case. She lost her job as a professor over the whole mess, so she’s giving Tolkien tours in New Zealand. Her latest tour includes an elderly gentleman with more money than he knows what to do with, and his nephew, who can’t stand Tolkien but wants to get on his uncle’s good side so he can borrow money to repay investors after his own relationship disaster, in which his girlfriend stols his company’s secrets and gave them to another guy. A predictable but sweet romance — with plenty of comic moments. (And you don’t have to be a Tolkien fan to enjoy this story.)

Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg. A sweet story of friendships across the generations. The elderly Lucille keeps busy baking cakes for restaurants and teaching cooking classes, but she’s slowing down. Several times, she bargains with the Angel of Death to let her live a little longer so she can be there for the little boy next door, whose mother has leukemia. Lucille’s assistant, Iris, can’t bake, but she’s very smart — and needs a project to distract her from her regrets. And then there’s Monica and Tiny, who seem so right for each other — but there are too many near-misses. A bit New-Agey for my taste at some moments, but a sweet story; it’s the second in a series and I will go back to find the first one. I received an advance copy of this book from Netgalley.

Love’s Rules of the Road by Maddie Evans (First Street Church Romances). In this sequel to Love’s Highway, rebellious wealthy runaway Casey returns to Sweet Grove for a week’s visit with her boyfriend Peter before returning to college. While she’s there, an accident lands Peter’s older brother in the hospital, derailing Peter’s plans to enlist in the military and causing plenty of family chaos. Casey, whose train-hopping habits were the reason she met Peter in the first place, seeks solace in the hobby that helps her run away when things get tough.

american streetAmerican Street by Ibi Zoboi. A Haitian teenager coming to Detroit to stay with cousins is desperate to reunite with her mother, who was detained by border patrol. She quickly learns that America is not what she dreamed it would be, and that her aunt and cousins’ lifestyle, while not lavish, is financed through illegal means. Fabiola agrees to collect evidence against her cousin’s boyfriend in order to secure her mother’s release, but finds out that things are not always what they seem. Heavy profanity and violence.

YA/Children’s

3 Things to Forget by Cynthia T. Toney. A satisfying conclusion to the engaging “Bird Face” series for teens, this novel sees Wendy finally getting to visit her friend Sam in Alaska, and trying to reconnect with Sam’s grandmother, Mrs. V, whose dementia is quite advanced by now. Typical Wendy wants to protect those around her from doing things that could be harmful to themselves, and this time her well-meant intervention focuses on Dev, a fellow volunteer at an animal shelter who’s depressed and angry at her family. It was easy to jump right back into the series, and I’m sad to see this 4-part series end; I really enjoyed this cast of characters.

Charlotte’s Honor by Ellen Gable Hrkach. This second book in the “Great War Great Love” series is the story of Charlotte, who serves as a medical volunteer near Soissons, France, and has a heart for aiding the most critically wounded patients, patiently comforting the dying soldiers. She shows her strength when she volunteers to stay behind with these patients and a surgeon when the field hospital is evacuated due to enemy fire. Charlotte’s unique combination of devotion and grit attracts the attention of Dr. K, whose own heartbreak steers him away from pursuing a relationship with her. Another volunteer is jealous of the time Dr. K spends with Charlotte and tries to undermine Charlotte’s character. Meanwhile, Charlotte discovers a cryptic note in a hidden old chapel, a note which leads to a surprising discovery. I received an advance review copy of this book from the author. Read my full review.

Unlikely Witnesses by Leslea Wahl. Can’t get enough of the characters in Leslea Wahl’s full-length books? This novella puts couples from The Perfect Blindside and An Unexpected Role in the same location, on a trip to a dude ranch that turns into a mystery they just can’t leave alone. The four wind up being interrogated by a disgruntled FBI investigator, who finds himself unexpectedly impressed by their guts and their faith. Comic moments keep the story from being too heavy. You don’t have to have read the novels that introduced these characters before you read this story, but I recommend you read them anyway! My only complaint? This is under 100 pages. I would have been happy for more!

Margaret’s Night in St. Peter’s by Jon M. Sweeney. This 64-page chapter book (the second in a series) would make an excellent classroom read-aloud in the days leading up to Christmas break. The inquisitive little cat will capture students’ hearts, and there’s the added fun of an insider’s look at life in Vatican City! Author Jon Sweeney depicts the pope as a humble man who sneaks his pet into choir rehearsals and takes a break in the middle of a busy Christmas Eve to show Margaret all around St. Peter’s Basilica. I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher, Paraclete Press.

Sisters of the Last Straw: The Case of the Haunted Chapel by Karen Kelly Boyce. I’m a big fan of this series — but somehow missed reading the first one until now! You won’t find picture-perfect nuns among the Sisters of the Last Straw: All of them had failed in other convents because of bad habits they just can’t shake. Together, their best and worst qualities make for high comedy as they chase runaway goats and try to figure out what’s causing the strange noises and voices they’re hearing in the chapel. This book for readers in grades 2 and up would make a great read-aloud for primary grade students too.

Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M.M. Blume. Cornelia’s mom is a concert pianist who’s almost never home; Cornelia’s dad isn’t in the picture at all. Raised by a stern house manager, Cornelia avoids friendships because everyone is always more interested in her famous parents. When glamorous, elderly Virginia Somerset moves in next door with her servant and French bulldog, Cornelia is captivated — and learns what it’s like to be appreciated for who she is.

Nonfiction

Don’t Forget to Say Thank You by Lindsay Schlegel. The things we say to our kids contain more truth than we think: truths about our relationship with God. Lindsay Schlegel shares 15 of those phrases we say around the house on a daily basis, and examines what they mean by imagining God saying those same phrases to her. Rounding out each short chapter is a prayer, reflection questions, and a couple of patron saints whose example can help us on our spiritual journeys. Honest, encouraging, and challenging. I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley.

Poetry

from dust to starsFrom Dust to Stars by Jake Frost. The author captures the reader’s imagination by grounding the poetry in history. The poems cover topics ranging from biblical figures and events to persecution of Catholics in Britain to saints of the Church. Some of them are even prayers, written in verse. I received a review copy of this book from the author. Read my full review.


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 -f

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

 

Open Book: September 2018 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

relicRelic of His Heart by Jane Lebak. When a midwife is suddenly confronted by an angel who wants her to restore a relic stolen 70 years ago to a church in Italy, she thinks he’s crazy. Then she finds out the depth of her family’s connection to that church, and the dire state of the town — and her journalist husband gets on board to help with this mission. Along the way, her own livelihood is threatened as lawmakers try to enact legislation that will effectively outlaw midwifery in her state. One of the things Jane Lebak does very well is human-angel banter, and this novel is no exception. This is an excellent story, with plenty of clever humor, a great twist at the end, and almost no gory birth-center details to deter the squeamish (like me). Interwoven in the dialogue is a wonderful explanation of what Catholics believe about relics. Recommended!

catching christmasCatching Christmas by Terri Blackstock. I’m pretty sure the first chapter’s premise came from a meme: cab driver pulls up to house that looks like no one’s home. Reluctantly going to the door, he finds an elderly woman asleep in wheelchair and takes her to medical appointment. That’s where the meme ends and the novel begins. Over the next several days, former restauranteur Finn needs to pay his rent, but Callie, the elderly woman, is so insistent that he not only driver to her to the places she needs to go (including Christmas shopping), but bring her in to each and every one. That means he can’t leave the meter running. That means he’s out the cash – and plenty of it. He alternates between anger at Callie’s granddaughter, Sydney, who apparently is too tied up in her work to care for her grandmother, and remorse for the way he treated his own mother when she was dying. Great story. (Netgalley review)

end of the worldThe End of the World by Amy Matayo. When Cameron shows up on the doorstep of his new foster home, he’s greeted by a slightly-older teenage girl who tries to help him survive the awful circumstances he’s just entered. Shaya is bossy, but that’s all a cover she uses to keep it together in a horrific situation. Cameron joins Shaya in caring for the younger 3 children in the home and finding a place where the two of them can pretend that none of this is happening. This is not your typical foster-home horror story, though there’s plenty of that in this novel. Instead, it’s a story of resilience, of missed opportunities, of brokenness so deep that there seems little chance for wholeness. Warning: this story will shatter your heart. But it’s well worth it.

curve in the roadA Curve in the Road by Julianne MacLean. Lots of suspense in this quick-to-read novel. Abbie’s perfect life is shattered when she’s seriously injured in a car wreck by a drunk driver — and family secrets she never knew come to light. Her whole life changes in a matter of seconds. I usually don’t feel I can relate to characters who have perfect lives, but maybe because Abbie’s life stops being perfect in the very first chapter, it was different this time. I had trouble putting this book down.

wideness of the seaThe Wideness of the Sea by Katie Curtis. Twentysomething artist Anna Goodrich lives and works in New York, putting distance between herself and her father, since their relationship has become complicated after her mother’s death. She doesn’t want to live her life bound by his expectations that she’ll follow in her mother’s footsteps as a famous artist. Her return to her Maine hometown for her uncle’s funeral brings up old hurts, including an old romance; at the same time, she learns she’s been invited to show her work at a prestigious art show that would blow her cover. An enjoyable read.

GIRLS AT 17The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib. A truly intense novel written from the point of view of a young married woman with anorexia. Anna is a dancer in Paris, but an injury ends her career and she becomes obsessed with staying thin. Add in the depression resulting from her relocation to the USA for her husband’s job and some childhood tragedies, and Anna winds up in a residential treatment facility for women with eating disorders. The author makes the thought process of the patient with anorexia painfully real. (Netgalley review)

beach windsBeach Winds (Emerald Isle NC #2) by Grace Greene. This story feels like it starts in the middle; Frannie is tasked with taking care of her uncle’s house while he recovers from a stroke. She hires a handyman to paint and repair things, but what’s really in need of repair is her own self-esteem once she finds out she’s being gaslighted and lied to about her childhood.

castles in the cloudsCastles in the Clouds (Flowers of Eden #2) by Myra Johnson. This novel follows an infatuated Lark as she follows her handsome professor to Africa to teach in a mission school; let down professionally and romantically, she must find a way to make a difference in a small Southern town during the Depression.

YA/Children’s

harrietHarriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I read this countless times as a kid, and just reread it after some authors were discussing it online. If Harriet the Spy were walking around today, she’d probably use Instagram or Snapchat. But this book would make a great lead-in to a discussion of cyberbullying, boundaries, and where we keep private thoughts private. This favorite from my childhood stands the test of time.

Nonfiction

Book CoverIt’s OK to Start with You by Julia Hogan. This not the kind of self-help book that works from the assumption that you’re doing this on your own. Hogan writes from a Catholic point of view, and she includes mental, emotional, social, and spiritual self-care in her whole-person look at this topic. (Review 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!

Open Book logo -f


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: Summer 2018

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

At the end of July I was preparing for my trip to the Catholic Writers Guild Conference (a combination of business, pleasure, and spiritual retreat), so this will cover the best of what I’ve read this summer. If I gave it 3 stars or better on Goodreads, it made this list.

Fiction

year of extraordinary momentsA Year of Extraordinary Moments by Bette Lee Crosby. The second book in Bette Lee Crosby’s “Magnolia Grove” series brings readers back to the small-town neighbors who feel friendly and familiar. Tracy is finally beginning to put her past behind her and has gotten help for her profoundly deaf young child. Complications arise when Dominic, her ex, shows up, summoned by his dying grandmother, who wants to do the right thing for her descendants. But Dominic’s grandmother, despite her serious and painful illness, has a heart of gold and a spine of steel. Tracy’s sister Meghan, the main character in the first book in the series, must come to terms with her own need to follow what she believes were her late father’s wishes. This story of family, love, healing, and strength is one you won’t want to put down — and you won’t want the book to end. Highly recommended. (Netgalley review, but I preordered this book months ago and I know I’ll reread it when it’s released October 16.)

13th chanceThe Thirteenth Chance by Amy Matayo. What a fun read! Olivia, a pretty teacher with a bad case of OCD, gets mixed up in a MLB pitcher’s scheme to get his career back on track. Turns out she’s a bit of a good-luck charm, and while the two of them irritate each other, sparks begin to fly. This book is funny, and the characters have enough quirks to keep it interesting (there’s nothing worse than plain vanilla characters). A clean romance with plenty of banter. Great read for the summer!

unveilingUnveiling, a luxurious read by Suzanne Wolfe from Paraclete Press, is a story that was easy to dive into — and tough to stop reading. My only complaint? It wasn’t long enough! Assigned to Rome to restore a mysterious medieval painting, Rachel leaves her life in New York behind, along with a bitter divorce and a childhood trauma that’s left a mystery to the reader until she is no longer able to bury the secret she’d rather keep hidden. Meanwhile, Rachel and her team work against the looming threat that the art will be removed from the church after restoration is complete. My favorite part involved the question of the identity of the artist behind the beautiful painting Rachel was restoring, and this book made me want to discover more about religious art. (Review copy received from publisher.)

still fallingStill Falling (Home in You 0.5) by Crystal Walton. In this prequel to the “Home in You” series, musician Bree finds she can’t run away from the violence from her old neighborhood as quickly as she ran away from her old block — and her old flame, who’s now a police officer hoping to make detective. Bree and Josh are thrown together again when her father comes under fire from the gang Bree hopes to help her brother escape. I enjoyed this whole series and wish I’d read the books in order!

fearedFeared (Rosato & DiNunzio #6) by Lisa Scottoline. Snark, suspense, and plenty of local color flavor Lisa Scottoline’s crime novels. While this is not my preferred genre, I’m a fan of this author’s newspaper columns and I enjoy her books because she’s heavy on the Philly connection. In this sixth book in the series (you don’t have to have read them all before reading this), a former neighbor’s vendetta threatens to take out the no-longer-all-female law firm, an associate is mysteriously murdered, and Rosato & DiNunzio just aren’t sure who can be trusted. Premature labor complicates matters further. Not to be missed: the Rosary Society invading the mobster’s mom’s home. (Netgalley review)

falling for youFalling for You (Bradford Sisters Romance #2) by Becky Wade. Will they or won’t they? Willow Bradford and her former boyfriend Corbin are thrown together by Corbin’s young niece, who wants them to help her find a long-lost aunt. Along the way, opportunities for romance abound, along with some danger as supermodel Willow is stalked by some over-the-top fans and the two of them discover the extent of an apparently squeaky-clean politician’s secret corruption. Another obstacle: Corbin’s father, Joe, is dying — and he doesn’t want Willow involved with his son. I wasn’t wowed by this novel; all the main characters and their boyfriends seem to be beautiful and have perfectly-perfect careers. But I enjoyed the character of Corbin’s niece — she’d be great in a YA spinoff!

good samGood Sam by Dete Meserve. A refreshing change in the mystery genre: there’s no dead body opening this story. Instead, the mystery revolves around who’s been leaving bags with $100K at people’s doors. LA TV-news reporter Kate, seeking to advance her career with this Big Story, finds a connection to her former fiance and risks losing the new guy in her life. Just because there’s no corpse doesn’t mean everyone’s motives are above board.

YA/Children’s

where you leadWhere You Lead by Leslea Wahl. In this fun-to-read romantic suspense novel for teens, Eve is prompted by an odd vision to goad her parents into a cross-country move. She can’t tell them the real reason: she knows she needs to help or protect the young man playing frisbee in front of a red castle. But when Eve engineers a chance to meet him, he (understandably) thinks she’s a crazy stalker. Soon the professor’s daughter and senator’s son find themselves embroiled in a mystery involving lost Civil War treasure — one that may have international implications in the present. It’s refreshing to read about teens who openly pray and who try to find out what God wants them to do, especially as this felt like a natural part of the story, not something forced. The dialogue and characters are real, and the cranky elderly neighbor provided comic relief. I was immediately drawn into this page-turner. (Review copy provided by author.)

boundBound by Vijaya Bodach. High-school senior Rebecca can’t wait to go away to college — far away, where she can leave behind her father, who’s retreated into his work after her mom’s death last year, and her developmentally-disabled older sister. Rebecca, who was burned over 50% of her body as a preteen, is still dealing with surgeries and treatments for the burn scars and can’t remember the accident that caused the fire. But Rebecca’s dad isn’t dealing with Joy’s needs, leaving Rebecca to make decisions far beyond her years. When Joy becomes pregnant, the family is forced to rework this unhealthy dynamic. This engaging story is a sensitive treatment of prolife themes including abortion, end-of-life issues, and eugenics. Appropriate for teenagers, Bound would make an excellent classroom read.

33430141_10216812107521559_4057467162288193536_nSecrets: Visible and Invisible from CatholicTeenBooks.com. This anthology of Catholic fiction for teens will introduce readers to seven diverse authors. Many of these stories, in a variety of genres but linked by a common theme, offer a peek at characters from full-length novels. Readers already acquainted with these authors will enjoy new perspectives on favorite characters. Kudos to CatholicTeenBooks.com and these seven authors for dreaming up this excellent collection. From dystopia to historical fiction to sweet romance to mystery, there’s something for every reader to like in this collection — and it might even encourage a reader who’s locked in to a certain genre to branch out a bit.

born scaredBorn Scared by Kevin Brooks. A harrowing novel written from the point of view of a young boy/teen (?) who is afraid of EVERYTHING. His fear paralyzes him to an amazing degree. He can’t go anywhere. He’s almost all out of the only medication that even takes the edge off his terror, it’s Christmas Eve, and there’s a blizzard. His mom goes out to meet the friend who offered to pick up the prescription, but doesn’t return, so the terrified boy, in his desperation, ventures out in the storm to find her. The book is poetically written and absolutely gives words to the terror he feels. There were a few plot elements that weren’t very clear, but this is a good novel for the middle- and high-school reader and will generate good discussion about coping with fear and anxiety. (Netgalley review)

merci suarezMerci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina. Entering middle school is a challenge for any kid. Merci has extra obstacles to face: she’s a scholarship kid of a different race than most of her private-school classmates, she’s not super rich, and she’s noticing that something about her grandfather is not quite right anymore. Plus, her friends are starting to pair off into couples, and she’s not ready for that. Merci must face down classmates who’ll do anything to win, academically and socially. A good look at what it’s like to be a 6th-grader under a variety of pressures. (Netgalley review)

benefits of being an octopusThe Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden. Zoey, a middle-schooler, is charged with work beyond her years: caring for her three very young siblings while her mother works, trying to keep the kids fed (by any means necessary), and staying out of the way of her mom’s emotionally-abusive boyfriend. A caring teacher shows Zoey enough compassion mixed with demanding toughness to help Zoey realize that she has to take some action to help two vulnerable friends, her siblings, her mother, and herself. I would give this book 10 stars of out 5 if that were an option, and it is going to take me a long time to process everything I’ve read here. This is a YA book that any adult who deals with kids should read. It will be eye-opening for teachers and other school leaders. (Netgalley review)

louisianas way homeLouisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo. I devoured this middle-grade novel with a spunky main character whose voice reminded me very much of Junie B. Jones. Louisiana Elefante’s granny takes her on a journey in the middle of the night, abandoning their home and Louisiana’s friends and pets. Stranded in a Georgia town by Granny’s dental emergency, Louisiana discovers that she’ll need to find a way for herself in the world. This is a sweet story of unexpected kindnesses that would make a terrific movie. (Netgalley review)

everlasting noraEverlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz. Nora is a little girl who lives in a shantytown inside a Manila (Philippines) cemetery — she and her mother actually live inside the mausoleum where her father is buried. The book goes into extensive detail of what it’s like for the homeless who live in the cemeteries, which is a real thing in Manila. Nora and a friend try to find her mother, who disappeared one day, while Nora does her best to hold down the menial job she has to keep herself and her mother, a compulsive gambler, fed. This is an intense story with themes of addiction, organized crime, and violence. For middle-grade readers. (Netgalley review)

It looks like the big theme in YA/middle-grade this year is going to be kids living in home-insecure situations (either homeless or close to it.) I had 3 Netgalleys this summer on that subject alone.

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 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: June 2018 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

just in timeJust in Time by Marie Bostwick. Grace’s life revolves around her quilting hobby and caring for her husband, who’s been in a coma since a hiking accident on their honeymoon. Her friends from a grief support group stand by her and push her toward new adventures even as new crises in her work and personal life threaten the fragile balance of her life. Terrific characters.

not that I could tellNot That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser. A disturbing read about a group of young moms in a neighborhood and how they react to the sudden disappearance of one of their peers, who seems to have taken off, small children in tow, with no explanation. The resulting media circus seems to point to Kristin’s estranged husband, and others in the neighborhood must deal with their own crises. I’m not entirely sure the surprise ending works. (Netgalley review)

bound by brokennessBound by Brokenness (The Healing Season’s series #2) by This story is a continuation of a series; definitely these need to be read in order. Dr. Matthias Mason is injured while treating the people in the mountain region where he lives and works; his young assistant steps out of her comfort zone to take care of things while he cannot. Meanwhile, 12-year-old Samuel is left on his own to manage a household, the vegetable garden, and his schoolwork — and he finds himself embroiled in a bootlegging scandal while trying to protect a friend. Some anachronistic dialogue got in the way of the historical-fiction experience.

way life should beThe Way Life Should Be by Christina Baker Kline. Kind of farfetched, but good escape fiction: Angela’s friend convinces her to try online dating, but it doesn’t turn out quite as she expected and it has disastrous effects on her job. When she heads to Maine to either escape or start over (even she doesn’t know which) she finds a surprising way to start over. I almost didn’t purchase this because of the reviews I read on Amazon (people were upset that this wasn’t anything like Orphan Train, but I really enjoyed it).

every time you go awayEvery Time You Go Away by Beth Harbison. This novel reminded me a lot of the movie “Ghost.” Ben, who died prematurely, leaving a wife and teen son, comes back as a ghost to their beach house, a place his wife had avoided since he died there alone 3 years before. Willa has a lot of healing and grieving to do, and a lot of repairing of her relationship with her son. Predictable, but an enjoyable read. (Netgalley review)

sister circleThe Sister Circle (Sister Circle #1) by Vonette Bright & Nancy Moser. A sweet, if farfetched, story about a recent widow whose husband left her nothing but an enormous old home filled with antiques. She opens a boardinghouse, filling the rooms with 3 women with little in common except they all need a place to stay. The book’s Christian message is strong, veering toward the didactic at times. This is the first in a series, and it’s pretty clear that there’s going to be a discovery that two characters have an unexpected connection (I’m trying to avoid spoilers); honestly, that’s the only reason I purchased the second book in the series.

least expectedLeast Expected by Autumn MacArthur. This short novel takes place over the course of a week or two at Christmastime; a middle-aged store owner with an overbearing mother falls for the quirky, artistic freelance window decorator. It wraps up a little too neatly, of course, but it was a fun read that definitely had me hoping these two characters would get together.

Nonfiction

catholic baby namesCatholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys by Katherine Morna Towne. I was honored to be asked to endorse this book! Choosing a Marian name for your baby, or helping your teen select a Confirmation name, just got easier. Kate Towne takes the guesswork out of the naming process, offering hundreds of names and nicknames that refer to Mary or are used in her honor. Complete with feast-day information, a bit of history, and plenty of variations and cross-referencing, this guide to names that honor the Blessed Mother is fascinating and full of surprises. Read my full review.

rethink happinessRethink Happiness by Paul George isn’t simply about self-help; its focus is solidly on spiritual growth. Don’t let the subtitle, “Dare to embrace God and experience true joy,” leave you thinking that this book doesn’t deal with the tough stuff or offer a true challenge. Paul George discusses depression, success, decision-making, beauty (and deceptive beauty), despair, simple living, fear, and other topics with an honest touch and just the right number of anecdotes to make his points relatable. Each chapter ends with reflection questions for prayer or journaling.

followKatie Prejean McGrady’s Follow: Your Lifelong Adventure with Jesus invites young Catholics to get to know Jesus in practical ways. But it’s not for young Catholics only! There are only four chapters, but they’re comparatively long ones, divided into sections of a few pages each. These four chapters cover four important ways to build a relationship with Jesus: prayer, Scripture, sacraments, and service. There’s a lot of information in this book: the chapter on prayer, for example, includes the Litany of Humility, a list of all the mysteries of the Rosary, and extensive coverage of various ways to pray.

psalm basicsPsalm Basics for Catholics: Seeing Salvation History in a New Way by John Bergsma is a Bible study, but Bergsma’s lighter approach makes this book perfect for summer. This book is informative and engaging without being too formal or serious. Charts and diagrams illustrate the discussion of salvation history and the distinctions among the psalms themselves. There’s much more than basic information here! The book has eleven chapters, so reading one chapter per week will take you right through the summer. I found it hard to stop reading at the end of each chapter — I was quickly wrapped up in Bergsma’s explanations about the history behind the psalms.

go bravelyEmily Wilson Hussem’s Go Bravely: Becoming the woman you were meant to be was definitely written for an audience more my daughter’s age (22) than mine (more than old enough to have a daughter who’s 22). That didn’t stop me from grabbing a pen and underlining large chunks of it. Wilson’s advice is for women of any age — the anecdotes will appeal most to older teens, college-age, and young-adult women, but the advice is definitely for us all. It would be great for a mother-daughter book club! This book is divided into twenty short chapters, each with a different piece of advice: for example, Find Your Gaggle, Honor Those Who Love You Most, Forgive and Forget, and Radiate with Light.


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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!

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Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz