#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:


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.

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 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.


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)


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

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Holy Hacks

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Part of my own collection of holy tools: San Damiano cross, statue of Our Lady of Fatima, rosary, Holy Hacks book, statue of St. Michael the Archangel, holy water, and statue of St. Philomena (to remind me to pray for a child in my family who is sick). Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

My name is Barb, and I’m addicted to tips. Hand me a magazine and I’ll flip through to any helpful-hints article I can find. I have (physical and virtual) folders filled with cooking tips, tricks for kitchen organization, and strategies for keeping the laundry clean. And that’s before you count in the hacks I’ve been collecting lately, all related to making sure my teenager, who has type 1 diabetes, stays as healthy as possible.

Patti Maguire Armstrong’s new book fills in a gap in my tips-and-tricks collection, a gap I didn’t even realize was there. Holy Hacks: Everyday ways to live your faith & get to heaven (Ave Maria Press) is packed with hundreds of do-able ways to grow in holiness.

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The author has done her research far and wide: from family customs to papal encyclicals (as far back as the 15th century!) to her own friends to Catholics in the media to Scripture and the saints and more, Patti Maguire Armstrong’s collection of tips truly has something for everyone.

Think of it as a cookbook. You don’t thumb through the pages feeling overwhelmed because you don’t have time to make every recipe. Instead, you find things that grab your attention, things that you would like to make. The key is to do everything in love, for and with Jesus, and in his name. (5-6)

Since I love to cook, I found this comparison spot-on. 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.

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.

Here’s a sampling of tips, one from each chapter, that I’ve already found myself doing or want to do more:

Chapter 1: Living the Holy Hack Life

Multitask with inspirational music, podcasts, or Catholic radio while folding laundry and doing other mundane tasks.

I’m on it! I particularly enjoy the Catholic Momcast, Among Women with Pat Gohn, Girlfriends with Danielle Bean, and Clerically Speaking.

Chapter 2: Holy Hacks for Humility

Resolve to compliment at least one person every day. Especially compliment people in conversation with others when they aren’t even present.

I have a friend who is fabulous at this; it seems to be in her nature never to leave a conversation without complimenting someone. I definitely want to follow her example.

Chapter 3: Hacks for Holy Relationships

Sacrifice your own preferences for someone else’s.

(This one would build humility too, I think!)

Chapter 4: Holy Prayer Hacks

Sing a hymn.

I do this! Singing is one of my favorite ways to pray.

Chapter 5: Holy Hacks for Spiritual Protection

Use prayers of spiritual protection such as St. Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer and the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel.

I would like to memorize St. Patrick’s Breastplate this year. I already keep a little St. Michael statue on my desk to remind me to pray that prayer at least once a day (he’s pictured above).

Chapter 6: Holy Hacks for Evangelizing

Use social media not only to send messages and articles but also to engage with people. On Facebook, don’t unfriend people with anti-Catholic views. Ask them questions, express your views calmly, and pray for them. Be respectful and insist on the same.

Do the people who follow you on social media know you’re Catholic? Are you witnessing for the faith on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? I love these tips for using those platforms in a positive way.

Chapter 7: Holy Hacks Against Gossip

Before you open your mouth to gossip, stop and imagine you were the subject of the news you are tempted to reveal.

What a great strategy, and one you can also teach to your children.

Chapter 8: Holy Hacks from Catholics in the Media

I keep a little notebook on my nightstand for prayer requests and then ask Our Lady every morning to intercede “for all the intentions in my notebook.” When I run out of space, I buy a new one and on the first line write, “All of the intentions in my previous notebooks.” (Susan Brinkmann, OCDS, of Women of Grace)

Terrific tip! I have been looking for a way to organize prayer intentions and this seems perfect. I particularly like that you don’t have to have some kind of perfect system. You just start right now, and keep on going.

Chapter 9: Holy Hacks for Lent

Abstain from something at each meal. It could be mustard on your sandwich, the main course, French fries, salad dressing … just something that is a sacrifice. St. Francis de Sales advised people never to leave the table without having refused themselves something.

This is a great example of those little, silent sacrifices that can add up. I’d add: offer the sacrifice for a particular prayer intention.

Chapter 10: Holy Hacks for Christmas, Easter, and Other Holidays

Don’t put baby Jesus in the manger until Christmas morning.

We do this, and always have!

Who should read this book?

Anyone! Holy Hacks will inspire people with families as well as singles, and most tips are appropriate for people of any age.
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Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.