On Barb’s Bookshelf: Meeting God in the Upper Room

Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi describes the Upper Room as “the most important room in Christendom” in his new book, Meeting God in the Upper Room (Servant, 2017). In one whirlwind 8-week period, the Upper Room was the location for three significant events in the birth of the Church:

  • the Last Supper
  • Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances to his disciples
  • Pentecost

By Assaf Yekuel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Msgr. Vaghi notes in the Prologue that the Upper Room, or Cenacle, was renovated in the 14th century, which explains the architectural style of the room as seen above.

What must the disciples have felt during their time in that room? Did they celebrate the Passover with trepidation, having heard Jesus tell them again and again that this trip to Jerusalem would end in his death? Were they astounded and elated when the risen Christ appeared to them in that room, continuing to teach them to take on the work of building the Church? Were they simultaneously energized and terrified at the descent of the Holy Spirit and their commissioning to make disciples of all nations?

“Once we catch a glimpse of the events that transpired in this room, we will be forever captivated by the mystery of the God who loves us so much that, even as he prepared to return to the Father, promised that ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.’ (John 14:18, NRSV)” (1)


Msgr. Varghi’s discussion of the history of the Upper Room based on Gospel accounts complements the meditations that are the meat of this book. I found the history fascinating; in various chapters, you’ll read about personalities, prophecy, sacraments, and Catholic social teaching. Each chapter ends with a section titled “Preparing Your Upper Room” in which the reader is invited to consider the personal implications of Jesus’ message.

I recommend Meeting God in the Upper Room for spiritual reading during Lent or, even more appropriately, beginning in Holy Week and continuing through the Easter season, when you can read the book as you liturgically relive the events depicted in it.

Barb's Book shelf blog title


This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

#OpenBook: November 2016 Reads

"An Open Book" linkup hosted at CarolynAstfalk.com and CatholicMom.com

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:


different-heroismA Different Heroism (Father Jay book 3) by Jane Lebak. Third in a series, this novel covers further ground in Father Jay and his brother Kevin’s contentious relationship, Jay’s impromptu shelter for homeless/neglected boys, and Jay’s ongoing health issues. A shaky truce with his brother and an order from his bishop force Jay into a week’s vacation–and everything starts to fall apart with the gang of “Archangels” he shelters. A fast-paced and enjoyable read. I’m a fan of these characters and eagerly await more Father Jay stories.
tis-the-season‘Tis the Season by Olivia Folmar Ard. In an age of oversharing, a young couple trying to conceive and battling Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) struggles to keep their health issues private. Ironic much? Even more so, considering Lauren spends a lot of time creating and maintaining the perfect social-media persona. And there’s nothing like a holiday trip to see her in-laws to threaten to dismantle all that online perfection. Despite my distaste for “rushing the season” in so many other ways, I’m always up to read a good Christmas story, and this novella did not disappoint.
most-highly-favored-daughterMost Highly Favored Daughter: A Sanctified Suspense by Janice Lane Palko. Set in Pittsburgh against the backdrop of the Super Bowl, this novel tells a harrowing story of human trafficking with an unexpected twist. Heiress Cara Wells is framed with the horrible crime of abusing a young child–but she remembers nothing of what happened that night after falling violently ill. Resolved to untangle the mystery and rescue the young victim of the crime, Cara puts even her marriage and her life on the line. Great local color. (Review copy received from author)
what-lightWhat Light by Jay Asher. Sierra spends 11 months of the year on a Christmas tree farm. The rest of the year she lives in a trailer at a tree lot, hours away from home. This might be her family’s last year at the tree lot, and she’s determined to make the most of it. She’s also determined to give the cute guy who buys trees for poor families a change, even though plenty of locals warn her that he’s trouble. Great premise, well-told story. Appropriate for high-school students (and it’s not even R-rated!) Reads like a Hallmark Christmas movie, which is not at all a bad thing.
christmas-clubThe Christmas Club by Barbara Hinske. Cute Christmas romance novella; a woman loses an envelope of money–all she has for Christmas gifts. Two kindhearted people replace the money, then separately learn how the people who found the lost cash were impacted by the windfall. A series of near misses for the two who replaced the money keeps the story going. This is a sweet, feel-good Christmas story and a quick read.
grace-crasherThe Grace Crasher by Mara Faro. In love with being in love, Julia obsesses over finding an affordable apartment right near her latest crush, a musician who makes her feel like the only person in his audience. Problem is, the only place her budget can handle comes with strings attached: she has to pretend she’s a born-again Christian. What’s an erstwhile Catholic girl to do? And how will she handle it when her landlady’s son discovers that she’s not the person she pretends to be? I enjoyed the local setting of this novel, and I think I’ve been to the Christian bookstore that figures so prominently in the plot (or one suspiciously like it). A great take on infatuation vs. love, speaking the truth in love, and being true to yourself.
someday-someday-maybeSomeday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham. Cute story of a struggling aspiring actress in NYC whose self-sabotaging behavior makes for a fun read, with a little bit of audience frustration thrown in for good measure. WHY does she have to go for the wrong guy? WHY does she go with THAT agent? My favorite part: the pages ripped straight from Franny’s Filofax, between each chapter. Franny’s roommates are terrific characters and merit stories of their own!
destiny-of-sunshine-ranchThe Destiny of Sunshine Ranch by T.M. Gaouette. This novel peeks into the world of children in foster care, kids who have experienced things no child ever should. Sunshine Ranch is the home of a vulnerable child’s dreams, with loving, faithful couple Martha and David caring for and educating 10 children who are in the foster-care system. Life at the ranch is not without its challenges, especially for 10-year-old Benedict who has had things particularly rough. This heartwarming tale has an unexpected ending.
more-than-a-promiseMore than a Promise by Ruth Logan Herne. Grieving the very public breakup of her marriage, artist Elle returns to her hometown to set up her studio and start over. She’s equally captivated and irritated by the 3 young motherless boys next door, left to run wild while their father runs the family business. When the boys’ grandmother threatens the only home they’d ever known, Elle comes up with a crazy scheme to keep the family together and announces her engagement to their dad. The premise is pretty far-fetched, but this novel is worth reading just for the great portrayals of the children.
when-you-reach-meWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. This novel for middle-school students follows a city kid who’s on her own after school and must navigate a world that includes the usual middle-school friendship dramas, plus gang violence, homelessness and a series of mysterious notes. There’s a time-travel element as well. Great suspense!
beyond-carouselBeyond the Carousel. Bette Lee Crosby continues her Wyattsville saga with yet another story that reinforces my wish to live in a town just like it. This novel spans three generations of a family whose happy life is shattered by a senseless, unsolved murder. Detective Jack Mahoney, out of love for the granddaughter of the murder victim, stakes his career on solving the crime. Don’t think this is just a mystery, though–it’s a three-generation love story.
(Review based on advance reader copy via Socialbook.) This novel will be released in January 2017.


fearless-lg-coverFearless by Sonja Corbitt puts fear and anxiety into a different perspective, framing them as spiritual attacks and providing tools with which to vanquish them. In short, Fearless is all about spiritual warfare. A mix of personal testimony, quotes from Scripture and the saints and plenty of wise counsel round out this book, which begs to be read (and reread) slowly and with pen and journal close by. Read my full review. (Review copy received from publisher)

Teresa-21Advent with St. Teresa of Calcutta by Heidi Hess Saxton. Heidi Hess Saxton has collected some of Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s most inspiring words and paired them with prayers, daily Mass readings and calls to action in a newly-published seasonal daily devotional. Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta: Daily Meditations offers food for thought and prayer for any reader who is devoted to this fascinating saint. Read my full review. (Review copy received from publisher)

who-does-he-say-you-areWho Does He Say You Are? by Colleen C. Mitchell. Expect to be surprised, challenged and changed. Colleen brings out the qualities in several Gospel women that are in every woman, and directs our spiritual journey as we discover how we can be healed as they were. Throughout the book, she shares her own journey of brokenness, faith, healing and trust. The Questions for Reflection at the end of each chapter aren’t merely journal prompts: they are calls to action. (Review copy received from publisher)

missing-kennedyThe Missing Kennedy by Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff. Examining the lives of Rosemary Kennedy and the Franciscan nun who cared for her during most of her adult life, Pentacoff’s book connects a privileged handicapped woman who lived a sequestered life with the very ordinary women who ministered to and visited her. The author grew up around Rosemary Kennedy, who was cared for by Sister Paulus, the author’s aunt. Koehler-Pentacoff, along with her parents, was present for holidays, birthdays and ordinary days with Rosemary Kennedy. This is a chronicle of an era when mental illness was misunderstood, and treatments for mental illness were dramatically different than the treatment available today. The book is not a comprehensive biography of Rosemary Kennedy, but the story of how Ms. Kennedy’s life intersected with that of the author. (I received an advance copy from the publisher for the purposes of this review.)

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

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 new logo

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Rosa, Sola by Carmela Martino

Carmela Martino deftly handles the sensitive topic of infant loss in Rosa, Sola, a book for children ages 10 and up.

Rosa wants nothing more than a baby brother of her own. But this is more than simple envy over her best friend’s new baby brother. Rosa is an only child, and in 1960s Chicago, that’s a rarity–and she feels like an outsider among all her friends with their large families. Rosa’s wish comes true, but she blames herself for the tragic events that follow.

It’s easy to forget, or overlook, the impact that the death of an unborn or newborn sibling can have on other children in a family. Rosa, Sola explores all the raw emotions that go along with a family tragedy–in a manner that is merciful, not gratuitous.

Parents will appreciate the classroom discussion guide at the end of the book; it’s also available on the author’s website.


As I read this very touching novel, I couldn’t help but consider the Year-of-Mercy implications it contains. Rosa, Sola is all about how the Corporal and Spiritual Mercy can be given and received. With that in mind, I asked author Carmela Martino to discuss this topic from her own point of view and that of a few of the characters.

Carmela, this book deals with the sensitive topic of infant loss as seen through the eyes of an older sibling. How do you recommend that parents handle the discussion of this topic with their children?

The original publisher, Candlewick Press, designated Rosa, Sola for ages 8-12. When I speak to parents, I tell them that it’s aimed at ages 9 and up, but add that it does deal with death. My first recommendation is for parents to read the novel themselves before deciding whether it’s appropriate for their child, especially if the child is under age 10. (The book’s a quick read.) I am not a therapist or an expert on the topic of grief, but I am a parent, as well as an aunt to many nieces and nephews, and I’ve seen how unique a child’s reaction to a book can be, no matter the subject. Teen readers have responded more enthusiastically to Rosa, Sola than I expected. One Chicago-area Catholic school added the novel to their sixth-grade curriculum and it led to terrific discussions. At the other end of the spectrum, I was stunned to read a review of Rosa, Sola written by a seven-year-old. I don’t believe my son would have handled the book well at that age. Yet this seven-year-old wrote an amazing review, admitting that Rosa, Sola “was a very sad book and it made me cry,” but also writing about how Rosa’s family “solves problems together and helps together.” The seven-year-old ended the review by saying “I learned that when someone cries about a book it’s a very good book!”

So perhaps a good place for parents to start a discussion of Rosa, Sola would be by having their child write a book review, or by talking about what points the child would include in a review. This could provide insights into which parts of the book made the greatest impression and lead into a discussion of what the book is really about. Parents may be surprised, as I have been, to find how well children pick up on the novel’s deeper themes. In my opinion, Rosa, Sola isn’t so much about death as it is about how love—God’s love and the love of family and friends—can help us through our darkest moments. Father Kevin Shanley, O. Carm., summarized the novel beautifully in his review of the original hardcover edition: “Challenged by the loss of her brother but ultimately bolstered by hope, young Rosa comes to the great understanding that she is never alone, and that love and kinship are often found in the most unexpected places—right in the middle of life itself.”

By the way, parents will find a “Discussion Questions” section in the back of the new edition of Rosa, Sola. For those with the original hardcover edition, the same discussion questions are available on my website.

Let’s talk with a few of the characters about how they gave and received the works of mercy.

Rosa, what do you wish your friends would have said or done for you when you were feeling bad about your baby brother’s death?

I know you’re supposed to say “I’m sorry” when someone dies, but when my best friend AnnaMaria said that to me, all I could think of was how she had a baby brother and I didn’t. That made me cry, and then I felt embarrassed for crying in front of everyone. I think maybe it would have been better if she’d made me a card and mailed it to my house instead, the way Ma had me do for AnnaMaria when her grandpa died. That way, if the card made me cry, no one would see.

But what I really wish is that my friends would treat me the same as before and not be afraid to talk to me or play with me. I know at first I wanted to be left alone, and I’m glad they didn’t bother me then. But later, when I wanted to be around them again, my friends stayed away from me at lunch and recess. I guess they were afraid of making me cry again. I’m so glad we had the spelling bee! After that, everything went back to normal and I didn’t feel strange or different anymore, even though inside I was still sad.

Rosa, what would you have changed about the way your parents and Aunt Ida handled the subject around you?

First thing, I would have had Papa or Uncle Sal tell me the bad news. I didn’t really like Aunt Ida back then, so it made me extra sad when she was the one who told me. She tried to make me feel better, but she didn’t know how to hold me the way Ma did. Then later, I would have had Papa be home more and not spend so much time at the hospital, and for Papa not to ignore me the way he did when he was home. I would have had him talk to me more, and tell me everything was going to be okay. That Ma would be okay. That our family would be okay.

I just thought of something. Maybe Papa didn’t want to cry in front of me, just like I didn’t want to cry in front of my friends. But I think it would have been good if Papa did cry. Uncle Sal had told me it was okay to cry, and after I did, I felt a little better. I think Papa and me crying together would have helped both of us feel better.

Aunt Ida, what was the hardest part about caring for Rosa while Ma was in the hospital?

Oh, those days were so very terrible. I was afraid Francesca might die and leave Rosa motherless. I grew up without a mother and I feared Rosa might have to suffer in the same way. During those terrible days, I tried my best to make Rosa feel safe, to protect her from worry. But what did I know of mothering? I have no memory of my mother and I never had any children of my own. I think the hardest part was hiding how afraid I really was. I had to be strong for Rosa’s sake, even if she thought I was being cruel. Better Rosa hate me than she should worry about her mama, no?

Mrs. Graziano, as a neighbor and family friend, what was the best thing you were able to do for Rosa or her family?

The best thing? I’m not sure. I tried to be there for whatever help the family needed. They needed someone to care for Rosa before and after school—I was there. They needed food to eat—I cooked. Rosa needed someone to tell her worries to—I let her talk. I tried not to ask too many questions. I didn’t want to be nosy. But when Rosa talked, I listened. Not with just my ears. Con il mio cuore—with my heart. Rosa’s words reminded me of some hard, scary times in my own family. So I told Rosa about those times, and about how everything was okay in the end. Maybe, then, the best thing I did was give Rosa hope that everything would be okay for her family, too.

About the author: Carmela Martino (www.carmelamartino.com) is a freelance writer, children’s author, and writing teacher. Her acclaimed children’s novel, Rosa, Sola, which was inspired by her experiences growing up in an Italian-American family, received the Catholic Writer’s Guild Seal of Approval and was named a Booklist Top Ten First Novel for Youth. Carmela’s articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Catholic Parent, New Catholic Explorer, and numerous other publications. She blogs about writing and teaching at TeachingAuthors.com (www.teachingauthors.com).

Barb's Book shelf blog title

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.


This month I’m joining all the cool kids in the #Write31Days adventure! I didn’t pick a keyword or a theme, because just getting something written for all 31 days is challenge enough for me right now.

#OpenBook: July 2016 Reads

"An Open Book" linkup hosted at CarolynAstfalk.com and CatholicMom.com

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:


pickup notesPickup Notes by Jane Lebak. This story will rid you of any idea that string quartets are boring. The novel centers on the violist in a NYC-based quartet; Joey struggles against toxic family circumstances, a night job collecting tolls at a Brooklyn tunnel, and her own doubts about everything from her music to her ability to be a friend. Mix in an intriguing romantic situation, some well-placed snark and three more musicians and you have a recipe for a winner of a story. I had a hard time putting this novel down–and I didn’t want it to end.

they almost always come homeThey Almost Always Come Home by Cynthia Ruchti. This was a harrowing tale about a woman in a difficult marriage whose husband leaves for a 2-week fishing trip in northern Canada and does not return. Overcoming her anger at him for getting out before she could is her true concern for his safety. She organizes a search party with her best friend and her father-in-law. While only her father-in-law has wilderness experience, the three journey to retrace her husband’s steps in the hope of finding answers.

seven riddles to nowhereSeven Riddles to Nowhere by A.J. Cattapan. Perfect for middle-schoolers, this novel centers on a cyber-scavenger hunt reminiscent of “The Westing Game” but with higher stakes–the survival of a beloved school. Kam and his friends are challenged by bullies as they make their way through unfamiliar neighborhoods, seeking clues in churches and racing against time to win an inheritance. This was an advance reader copy–the book will be released by the end of August and I can’t recommend it enough. Make a note to check Amazon for this one later in the month, and visit author A.J. Cattapan’s Facebook page to sign up for the release party!

in this house of bredeIn This House of Brede by Rumer Godden. I don’t know how many times I’ve read this, but I needed a retreat in the form of a novel that would draw me in with its overwhelming peace–and this was just the thing. This book is a masterpiece.


pope francis takes the busPope Francis Takes the Bus by Rosario Carello. What’s Pope Francis really like? You’ve heard bits and pieces in news stories about him paying his own hotel bill, riding the bus around Buenos Aires and forgoing a plush Papal apartment in favor of a life in community. Italian journalist Rosario Carello has put together eighty vignettes from the life of Pope Francis in a book that will help readers get to know the Pope.
My full review is here.


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

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 new logo


Small Success: Live and In Person

Authors of the CatholicMom's Prayer Companion at the Catholic Writers Guild, July 2016. @franciscanmom

Thursdays at CatholicMom.com begin with a look at the past week’s Small Successes!

I’m pretty sure I know what book Sherry is reading, based on what she says in her post. I’m actually reading the same book: Little Sins Mean a Lot by Elizabeth Scalia. Really good stuff.

little sins mean a lot

Last weekend I was so fed up with all the politics on social media that when I saw the second or third reference to one of my Favorite Novels Ever in Scalia’s book, I bailed on all the rest and took refuge in that novel. It was practically a retreat. Highly recommended. And that was a huge success for me.


Another huge success: getting to meet (live and in person) about 1/5 of the contributors to The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion (coming in August! Preorder yours now!)

CM Prayer Companion cover art

Here we all are! I’m in the back, with the Tall People™ for once!

CM prayer companion authors photo
Photo taken by CatholicMom.com contributor Rakhi McCormick on Lisa Hendey’s cell phone.Shared by Lisa Hendey on Facebook.

Small Success dark blue outline 800x800


Share your Small Successes at CatholicMom.com by joining the linkup in the bottom of today’s post. No blog? List yours in the comments box!

Book links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchase through these links supports this website. Thank you!

An Open Book: June 2016 Reads

"An Open Book" linkup hosted at CarolynAstfalk.com and CatholicMom.com

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:


sunflowers in a hurricaneSunflowers in a Hurricane by Anne FayeThis is the story of a life-changing summer as seen through the eyes of three characters: teenage Ruth, her single mom Cheryl and their elderly neighbor George. It’s hard to get three voices to ring strong and true in a novel, but Anne Faye has achieved this in Sunflowers in a Hurricane. The characters will draw the reader in; their transformations throughout the story are true-to-life without being predictable. My full review of the novel is here.

unclaimed coverUnclaimed by Erin McCole Cupp. This dystopian spin on Jane Eyre transports the reader into a world that, disturbingly, seems just around the corner. I was captivated by Jane E’s boldness and resilience as she navigated the challenging circumstances of living with a genetic defect in a designer-gene world. Erin McCole Cupp’s novel is a blend of three genres I rarely read (19th-century novel, dystopian fiction and fanfic) and it’s definitely a combo that works.

priest and the peachesThe Priest and the Peaches  by Larry Peterson introduces the Peach family at a crisis point in their lives: the sudden death of their father. Their mother had died a few years prior, and these kids ranging in age from 18 to 7 are completely on their own as 1966 begins. Now the two oldest, Teddy and Joanie, have to figure out how to get food on the table and pay the rent for their Bronx apartment. They’re reminded, in the midst of hardship, just how much their father lived by his favorite catchphrase, “L-Y-N” (love your neighbor), what it costs to do this, and how living this way will change their lives.

demons of abadonThe Demons of Abadon by Larry Peterson follows the family as summer approaches and their parish priest arranges for the two youngest boys, Joey and Beeker, to stay with friends of his in northwestern New Jersey. This is an unsettling tale of a spiritual battle; the Abadon forest is infested by “darkened” souls who don’t want 7-year-old Joey, innocent and very in tune with God, anywhere near them. Strange and scary things begin to happen, and you’ll keep turning pages to find out what’s behind the disturbing events in Abadon and how the Peach kids and the Winters family who took them in will weather this spiritual storm.

song of silenceSong of Silence by Cynthia Ruchti opens with a music teacher losing her lifelong passion as the arts program at her school is completely eliminated. Her grief is complicated by her husband’s eagerness to stick close–too close–by her side during every moment of the day. Adrift, she seeks to find a way to bring the song back to her heart, only to discover the depths of real grief after a boating accident. I didn’t want this novel to end, and I will look for more by this author.

not so good in a room(Not So) Good in a Room by Dakota Madison. Cyrano de Bergerac meets the casting couch in this light romance. Nellie is a screenwriter who can script a terrific action movie but freezes up when it’s time to pitch. An unmotivated screenwriter offers the services of his actor to help sell Nellie’s scripts–but then the work won’t be known as hers, and crushes complicate matters.

just a matter of timeJust a Matter of Time by Charity Tahmaseb is a YA paranormal romance (definitely not my usual genre) but I was intrigued by the premise: a student figures out how to “steal time” from other students, decreasing their ability to focus on their work. I wish this were a full-length novel.


Full Cycle coverFull Cycle by Christopher Blunt. Perfect for readers age 10 and up–and their parents, this father-son story follows sixth-grader Alex Peterson, a wanna-be athlete hindered from achieving this goal by an injury he received in an accident at his own birthday party. This is a story of perseverance, of teamwork and of looking beyond a disability to draw upon talents yet untapped. It would make a great movie. My full review is here.

Dying for Revenge Final FrontDying for Revenge by Dr. Barbara Golden is heavy on the suspense with none of the blood and guts. In other words, it kept me turning pages (and pages and pages), but I was still able to sleep without nightmares and I didn’t lose my appetite. The main character is a pathologist/investigator haunted by her own grief and desire for revenge. There’s much more than a mystery in this thriller; it’s the story of a soul in torment. My full review is here.


find a real friend in JesusFind a Real Friend in Jesus by Gary Zimak. The author describes “Ten Amazingly Easy Steps” to encounter Jesus in your own life. While the steps may be “easy,” they do require effort on your part–but that effort will bear great spiritual fruit! Find a Real Friend in Jesus is easy to read and an excellent book to take to prayer as you seek to draw closer to the Lord. My full review of this book is here.

creedThe Creed by Scott Hahn. In this very readable book, Hahn traces the history of, first, the Jewish covenants and then the Christian creeds. The reader will learn that every single word of the Creed is important. Every word is there for a reason. The Creed proclaims both mystery (God becomes man) and history (Jesus was born, walked the earth, died and rose.) My full review is here.

my life as lauraMy Life as Laura: How I Searched for Laura Ingalls Wilder and Found Myself by Kelly Kathleen Ferguson. Another one of those “get a book deal to do something for a year and write about it” books that I can’t seem to resist reading–plus it’s about Laura Ingalls Wilder. Like me, the author found that the TV version of Laura’s story left her cold. She spent a year wearing an oddly-colored prairie dress and retracing Laura’s steps throughout the Midwest. It was a strange memoir, in a can’t-look-away-from-this-train-wreck sort of way.

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

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 new logo

#OpenBook: April 2016 Reads

"An Open Book" linkup hosted at CarolynAstfalk.com and CatholicMom.com

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:


A Cup of Dust: A Novel of the Dust Bowl by Susie Finkbeiner. This harrowing novel graphically depicts the hardships faced in Western Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl years. Ten-year-old Pearl sees the poverty around her and learns about mercy through the way her parents share what they have with those who have nothing. Unfortunately, some of these works of mercy lead to opening the door to the revelation of a family secret and putting the entire family at risk.

Just Claire by Jean Ann Williams. This coming-of-age novel for tweens and up focuses on Claire, the oldest in a large family that has just relocated due to a job change for their father. They live in a cabin in a lumber camp in a Western state. The move brings on labor for Claire’s mother, and Claire is left caring for several siblings when her mother experiences birth complications and postpartum depression. 13-year-old Claire tries to fit in at school but is caught between the Mean Girls and Belinda, a true friend who is bullied by her peers and whose family situation is worse than Claire’s.

Frozen Footprints by Therese Heckencamp. 18-year-old twins, growing up under the thumb of their wealthy but tyrannical grandfather, find different ways to deal with the situation. Max is all set to run away when he is kidnapped by a disgruntled former employee of his grandfather. Charlene, closely bonded with her brother, seeks to save him when her grandfather refuses and finds herself a hostage as well. Then the kidnapper’s brother enters the picture. This novel will keep readers guessing the whole time.

after the thawAfter the Thaw by Therese Heckencamp. This fast-paced suspense novel picks up a few years after Frozen Footprints leaves off, continuing main character Charlene’s story. She can’t break off the link with her kidnapper’s brother who was forced to torture her and Max but who wanted to help them escape. The villains were unspeakably frightening.

admissionsThe Admissions by Meg Mitchell Moore. A novel of a Bay Area family whose life is coming apart at the seams. Stressors include a high-school senior trying to get into Harvard, a second-grader who can’t read, a realtor mom whose high-priced deals start falling through, and a mysterious intern at the dad’s office. From what I’ve read so far, I think a better title might be “By Hook or By Crook” as it seems like most of the members of this family are bent on getting what they want by any means necessary. I’m reading this right now and I have to say, I find it disturbing. I’m actually puzzled about why my mother insisted that I get my hands on this book. Honestly, that’s why I haven’t abandoned it yet–I’m trying to figure out why she recommended it to me!


girlfriends and other saintsGirlfriends and Other Saints by Teresa Tomeo. Teresa Tomeo’s spiritual writing has a style all its own; she’s funny without being shallow and she doesn’t hesitate to tell it like it is. Best of all, you don’t need a degree in Sacred Theology to benefit from her books. My full review is here.

talking to GodTalking to God by Julie Cragon. Get your hands on this new prayer book by Julie Cragon, but don’t read it all the way through. That’s not what Talking to God is for. It’s a small book (on purpose), just right to slide into your handbag for easy reference in prayer emergencies. My full review is here.

hope unfoldingHope Unfolding by Becky Thompson. Part spiritual memoir, part devotional, Hope Unfolding explores how moms can learn to lean on God: we shouldn’t be trying to do it all by ourselves. Each chapter of the book concludes with journal prompts, a prayer and a note of hope. Becky Thompson writes from the perspective of a mom with very young children. Though I haven’t fit into that category for quite a while, this book still spoke to me. My full review is here.

divine mercy for momsDivine Mercy for Moms by Michele Faehnle and Emily Jaminet. For moms with children of any age, this book packs a strong spiritual punch. It’s loaded with advice on living the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in family life and comes complete with an excellent resource list, including a tutorial on the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

four keys to everlasting loveThe Four Keys to Everlasting Love by Dr. Manuel and Karee Santos. This husband-and-wife writing team has put together a book on how to maintain a healthy sacramental marriage in a society that doesn’t support such a relationship. This comprehensive book is an excellent resource for marriage prep, but it’s not just for engaged couples or even newlyweds. Married couples in all stages of life can benefit from the sage advice they’ll find here. While couples whose relationships are on rocky ground will find help and hope in this book, it also contains plenty of encouragement for the growth and maintenance of healthy married relationships.

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

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 new logo

#OpenBook: March 2016 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. (Note: I read a few duds this month, so I’ve limited my list to the good stuff.)


pennies from burger heavenPennies from Burger Heaven by Marcy McKay. A beautifully-written novel about a homeless child of a drug-addicted mother, and the child’s attempts at survival in threatening situations when her mother unexpectedly disappears. This novel will stay with you for a long time.



blue eyed dollBlue-Eyed Doll by Deanna Klingel. This fascinating historical novel, appropriate for middle-school students and up, transports the reader to 1920s California, where students collected dolls to exchange for dolls from students in Japan, and follows the collectible dolls into World War II and its aftermath. Don’t miss the gutsy main character–she’s terrific.


behaveBehave by Andromeda Romano-Lax. Behave is a disturbing novel centering on one of the pioneers of behavioral research, John Watson, and his second wife. It’s easy to consider this a novel, rather than a novelized biography.
I found the “inside baseball” on what went on in those psychology behavior labs scary, and would have liked to have seen more on the outcome of the lives of any child who spent part of his infancy in the labs.



badass book of saintsMy Badass Book of Saints by Maria Morera Johnson. Packed full of stories of saints and saints-to-be whose courage belies the typical holy-card image, this book inspires women who don’t shy away from a challenge. Maria Johnson has collected a wonderful assortment of examples of contemporary women and saints from a wide variety of time periods and organized them according to qualities they had in common, such as challenging the status quo, showing perseverance, or living and dying to uphold human dignity. Highly recommended–this would be a great Confirmation gift!

spring meditations Liguori PubSpring Meditations by John Bartunek, LC. I reviewed this book here.

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

Follow my Goodreads reviews for the full list of what I’ve read recently.

Visit today’s #OpenBook post to join the linkup or just get some great ideas about what to read!

Courtesy of Carolyn Astfalk via A Scribber's Heart Blog.
Courtesy of Carolyn Astfalk via A Scribber’s Heart Blog.


#OpenBook: February 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:

NONFICTION: When You Suffer by Jeff Cavins (review here. HIGHLY recommended.)

Thrift Store Saints by Jane Knuth. This collection of stories about a middle-aged suburban woman’s volunteer experience at a St. Vincent DePaul thrift shop was touching, funny and honest. Author Jane Knuth is blunt about her own expectations as a volunteer and how her preconceptions were continuously confounded by the people whom she served and with whom she worked. My favorite story: Chapter 3, “A Street Theologian.” This book sat on my wish list for a long time, and I wish I’d gotten around to reading it sooner.

FICTION: The Marshall Plan by Olivia Folmar Ard. I’d already read The Partition of Africa and was happy to find that this book featured some of the same characters in supporting roles. Young college grad Molly and her fiance Gavin are going through a rough patch in their relationship. She can’t find it in her heart to commit to him when she resents him for passing up lucrative job offers in his field of study, only to get a job in a motorcycle shop. Meanwhile she’s scraping by, trying to pay off student loans and her rent while working in a job she hates at a taco stand because she can’t find any jobs in her field. Molly never actually connects those two dots, but that seems to be at the heart of her relationship issues.

June Bug by Chris Fabry. June Bug lives in an RV with her father; they’re stuck in a Wal-Mart parking lot waiting for an engine part when she sees her own face staring at her from a missing-child poster inside the store. This was an excellent story of suspense and the meaning of family. Highly recommended.

Under the Silk Hibiscus by Alice J. Wisler. This historical novel centering on the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II explores life inside the internment camp from the point of view of teenage Nathan. The novel does not end with Nathan’s family’s release from the camp, but continues to recount how they began to rebuild their lives in the postwar era.

A Season to Love by Nicole Deese. An excellent novel of transformation, centering on Willa, a widowed mom of a child who’s just finished chemo for cancer. Willa’s anxiety is always threatening to get the best of her and gets in the way of her relationships. She’s challenged by a young doctor to stop hanging on so tightly to what little she can control, so that her daughter can have a healthy life and she herself can have healthy relationships.

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

Follow my Goodreads reviews for the full list of what I’ve read recently.

Visit today’s #OpenBook post to join the linkup or just get some great ideas about what to read!

Courtesy of Carolyn Astfalk via A Scribber's Heart Blog.
Courtesy of Carolyn Astfalk via A Scribber’s Heart Blog.

Monday Recap: January 2016

Monday recap 2016 edition

New year, new logo! I’m also going to be doing recaps monthly instead of weekly, with the hope that I’ll be doing more writing here rather than just gathering up links to what I’m writing elsewhere. We’ll see how that goes.

I was pleased, in December, to be contacted by Mercatornet.com’s Reading Matters, because they wanted to publish one of my YA book reviews. There may be more to come, and I’m grateful for the privilege of sharing my reviews with their audience.

At CatholicMom.com

CM Christmas Cookie ExchangeChristmas Cookie Exchange: Mrs. Wagner’s Cookies: For our CatholicMom.com Christmas Cookie Exchange, I shared the cookie recipe that’s become a family tradition–and makes plenty of cookies to share!

chasing a second chanceBook Notes: A Christmas-Season Sequel. What’s more fun than a sequel to a novel you’ve enjoyed? A sequel set at Christmastime! I reviewed Chasing a Second Chance by Catholicmom.com contributor Lisa Lawmaster Hess.


meatless-friday-redesignMeatless Fridays: A Year of Mercy Resolution. Have you made your New Year’s Resolutions yet? I encourage you to consider observing Meatless Fridays all year ’round during the Year of Mercy.

Blessing KitsBless Your Home for Epiphany. I’m sharing our parish’s custom of distributing home-blessing kits to families.

At Cook and Count

Monday Recap recipes Jan 2016

Cashew Chicken: better than takeout, because you can customize the recipe just to your liking.

Almond Doodles: a crunchy twist on your standard snickerdoodle.

Mrs. Wagner’s Christmas Cookies: a recipe shared with my family by our “extra grandmother.”

Peppermint M&M Chocolate Cookies: If you enjoy chocolate and mint together, you’ll love these festive cookies!

At Reading Matters

Mercatornet.com’s Reading Matters blog picked up my review of Theresa Linden’s Roland West, Loner!