An Open Book: Winter 2020 Reads

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

It’s been so long since I’ve done this; I haven’t kept up with my Goodreads account, and a couple of weeks ago I replaced my Kindle, so now I don’t have that handy-dandy record of ebooks I’ve read (I’m sure it’s available somewhere, but not as easy as swiping page by page through my catalog of books).

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


The Rum RunnerThe Rum Runner by Christine Marciniak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Prohibition-era New Jersey, an immigrant with ties to the smuggling industry dies in a dockside turf war. Police officer Alice Grady wants to solve his mysterious death and help his widow and children. Fisherman Hank Chapman, also involved in smuggling, doesn’t want the police to investigate too closely, but he can’t deny his attraction to Alice. A fascinating and well researched tale of suspense.

Come Back to MeCome Back to Me by Carolyn Astfalk

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let me introduce you to the latest binge read from author Carolyn Astfalk. It’s easy to get swept up in Carolyn’s stories, because the characters are true and the dialogue will just carry you along. The male characters in Carolyn’s novels aren’t just one-dimensional caricatures — they’re people you could imagine meeting.
Kicked out of a marriage he’d kind of just fallen into, Alan finds himself bunking in with his brother Chris and wife Rebecca, who are expecting their first baby. Alan grapples with his own wish for children, his desire to reconcile with a wife who doesn’t seem to want anything to do with him, and unrelated job struggles. Complicating matters is his wife’s friend Megan, whose dissatisfaction with her own life choices puts her into an awkward situation with Alan.

A Channel of Your PeaceA Channel of Your Peace by Veronica Smallhorn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Warning: keep your box of tissues handy as you read this sweet story! Erin’s engagement is broken off after her live-in fiance confesses infidelity, and then she finds out she’s pregnant with his child. Her suffering leads her back to faith; it’s not an easy road, but she receives help and consolation in her suffering, both from Our Lady of Guadalupe and a martyr priest. Theology of the Body themes are woven throughout.

Welcome to Wishing Bridge (Wishing Bridge, #1)Welcome to Wishing Bridge by Ruth Logan Herne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pregnant and alone, Kelsey has a car accident in blinding snow that lands her in a town she’d hoped to avoid: her mother’s hometown. She’s sure the locals won’t want anything to do with her, considering her mother’s history of crime and substance abuse. But most of the town turns out to welcome her, as well as her two best friends, who’d grown up in foster care with Kelsey. A lovely story about a lovely town where I’d love to live!

At Home in Wishing Bridge (Wishing Bridge #2)At Home in Wishing Bridge by Ruth Logan Herne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thea, a nurse practitioner who’d lost her job just before her friend Kelsey’s accident, has begun working in Wishing Bridge’s understaffed medical practice. Ethan, the doctor temporarily assigned to the practice, has care of his orphaned niece and nephew and only wants to leave for Chicago to do medical research — but he knows that won’t be good move for the kids, and he’s starting to fall for Thea.
I was really hoping there’d be a Book 3 in this series.

The Book of Lost FriendsThe Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story, told in split time (1875 and 1987), explores the post-Civil-War struggles of former slaves as they attempted to make their way as free people with very limited opportunities in the South and reconnect with family members lost to the slave trade. A teacher in a small Southern town discovers a cache of classic books in an abandoned estate, and this leads her to educate her students about their local history — even when it didn’t make the locals look good. (Netgalley review)

If for Any ReasonIf for Any Reason by Courtney Walsh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An enjoyable story of transformation and reconciliation. Emily returns to Nantucket, where her family had summered until her mother died when Emily was 12. Her grandfather bequeathed the family’s summer home to Emily, who must restore the place before selling it. But her childhood neighbor is on the island too, right next door, with his own tween daughter and pain of a broken relationship.

Please See UsPlease See Us by Caitlin Mullen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A murder mystery set in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and based on a true story. Across the bay from AC, the bodies of several young women were found in a marsh behind a cheap motel. All had ties to the sex trade. Caitlin Mullen tells the story from the points of view of two of the young women, as well as a man who knows something about what’s happening, but can’t make his voice heard. I chose this book because I remembered the story from the news a few years ago. It’s a harrowing story, well told. Warning: sexual violence, other violence, graphic language. (Netgalley review)


Extreme Blindside by Leslea Wahl. Read my full review.

Earthquake WeatherEarthquake Weather by Kevin Rush

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A coming-of-age story about some young Filipino girls in the San Francisco Bay area; Kristine (age 13) knows her super-smart cousin Jamie’s boyfriend is involved in a gang, but Jamie needs Kristine’s help to see Raul secretly and fixes Kristine up with Fabio — which leads them all into a dangerous situation. I picked this book up when it was recommended in the #CatholicFictionChallenge on Instagram.


I’ve reviewed the following nonfiction books this winter. Click through to my full reviews:

Living Memento Mori by Emily DeArdo

Giving Thanks and Letting Go by Danielle Bean

Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story by Nancy Ward

Pray Fully by Michele Faehnle and Emily Jaminet

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

open book logo

Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Christmas Reads for the Whole Family

I read Christmas books like some people watch Hallmark movies — and my friends know it. Christmas reads are the most common recommendations I receive from fellow readers. I’m good with that.

When my children were little, I used to keep the Christmas storybooks separate from the other picture books we had for them. At the beginning of Advent, I’d bring out the Christmas book basket so they could enjoy those old favorites.

Consider this my virtual book basket — filled with Catholic Christmas reads for readers (and pre-readers) of all ages.

Board Book

joseph guardian of the holy family

Joseph, Guardian of the Holy Family by Marlyn Evangelina Monge, fsp; illustrated by Mary Rojas (Pauline Kids). Nearly all of this board book is focused on the nativity story, so I’m calling it a Christmas book. The illustrations are adorable, and the story emphasizes Joseph’s love for God, Mary, and Jesus, and his desire to know and follow God’s will. (Review copy received from publisher.)

Picture Books

molly mcbride christmas
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Molly McBride and the Christmas Pageant by Jean Schoonover-Egolf. Who can’t relate to spunky Molly’s Christmas-play dilemma: She was so sure she’d get to play Mary in the pageant! But when she doesn’t get the role she wants, she doesn’t want to be in the show at all. A gentle teacher reminds Molly that Mary followed God’s plan, even when it wasn’t her plan. This story about obedience is effective without being didactic or heavy-handed, and the illustrations definitely evoke the mood of the story.

Guess Who's in the Manger

Guess Who’s in the Manger? A Christmas Story by Vicki Howie; illustrated by Julia Seal (Pauline Kids). The Christmas story told (in rhyme) from the perspective of a barn owl, high in the rafters of the stable? What’s not to love? Little ones who love to show off their skills at imitating animal noises will be fans of this book, which calls for this very ability. I wish this were a board book, because it really does appeal to the very young. (Review copy received from publisher.)

santas priority

Santa’s Priority by Tom Peterson (TAN Books). Don’t let the word “Santa” in the title throw you off. This is definitely a Catholic Christmas book, not a secular holiday story. Santa is shown stopping along his way, because the first thing we should do on Christmas is “come home to Mass and celebrate the holy Christian season.” A short rhyming read that would be a good book to enjoy together before Christmas Mass. (Review copy received from publisher.)

Bible Storybooks

While not technically “Christmas books,” both of these include the Christmas story. Bibles and Bible storybooks are wonderful gifts any time of year.

my bible gods word for me

My Bible: God’s Word for Me by Mary Martha Moss, fsp; illustrated by Augusta Currelli (Pauline Kids). Catholic Bible storybooks aren’t very easy to find. I was thrilled to see this one published this year! This gift-quality book includes a presentation page, a prayer section at the end with familiar Catholic prayers and instructions on how to pray the Rosary, and four pages of colorful maps of the Holy Land. In the introduction, the author notes that this book “will show you God’s amazing plan for the world — and for you!” Each story ends with a one-line prayer, and the stories are perfect bedtime-story length. (Review copy received from publisher.)

god gave us the bible

God Gave Us the Bible: 45 Favorite Stories for Little Ones by Lisa Tawn Bergren; art by David Hohn (WaterBrook). This book intersperses Bible stories with commentary by a family of bears and their animal friends. The Bible stories and commentary are set apart by different styles of art and varying typefaces. (Review copy received from publisher.)

Chapter Book

sisters of the last straw 5

The Case of the Christmas Tree Capers (Sisters of the Last Straw #5) by Karen Kelly Boyce (TAN Books). I’m a longtime fan of the Sisters of the Last Straw and this latest book in the series does not disappoint. It features all those favorite characters, the Sisters who each have a very human flaw and who are working — together and separately — to overcome their failings, plus the sour Mr. Lemon and the helpful farmer down the road. In this story, the Sisters open a Christmas tree lot to raise money to buy gifts for poor children in the parish. When the trees start disappearing, a few at a time each night, the Sisters set off on a mission to catch the thief, with sweet (and hilarious) results. For readers 7 and up, but would make a great read-aloud with younger children. (Review copy received from publisher.)

Story Collections

christmas around the fire

Christmas Around the Fire: Stories, Essays, & Poems for the Season of Christ’s Birth edited by Ryan N.S. Topping (TAN Books). This keepsake book is designed to be read aloud (as the title indicates, by the fire — or maybe, as we liked to do when our children were little, by the light of the Christmas tree). I remember some of the stories in this book from my own childhood (“The Selfish Giant,” “The Other Wise Man,” and the excerpt from “A Christmas Carol”) and was pleased to see them included with a medieval mystery play on the Annunciation, an essay from Pope Benedict XVI (“Advent Calls Us to Silence” — read this one first!), and poetry by Gerard Manley Hopkins and Christina Rosetti. The hardcover volume is cloth-bound with gold printing on the cover and a gold ribbon bookmark, and will be a lovely treasure for your family library. (It’s available as an ebook as well, but you’d definitely miss out on the heirloom-quality presentation if you go that route.) (Review copy received from publisher.)

gifts ctb

Gifts: Visible & Invisible by Susan Peek, Katy Huth Jones, Carolyn Astfalk, Theresa Linden, Leslea Wahl, Cynthia T. Toney, T.M. Gaouette, Corinna Turner, Cathy Gilmore. No cartoon characters “saving Christmas” by making sure presents happen, or mistletoe moments with less substance than a snowflake here. These eight stories entertain and edify the young-adult reader and satisfy that Christmas craving for something more, which can only be fulfilled by Jesus. Each story stands alone, but many are connected to other work by the authors from Catholic Teen Books. (Review copy received from publisher.)

For You or a Friend

Christmas List book cover

The Christmas List by Hillary Ibarra. Nothing lifts the spirits like a Christmas novella, and this one by Hillary Ibarra is one of the best I’ve read. It’s the beautifully told tale, inspired by true events in the author’s life, of a hardworking couple who cannot afford groceries for their family, let alone a festive Christmas meal or gifts for the children. A badly-timed job loss has left the parents stressed, but they make every effort to make Christmas special for their family — and they learn that God does, indeed, care about them. Appropriate for teens and adults.

Christmas Reads

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given free review copies of these books where noted, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: June 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 (hint: there’s been a bit of a fiction binge lately).


Pearl of Great PricePearl of Great Price by Myra Johnson

A job in the family business in a small town suits Julie Pearl Stiles just fine, but when she realizes she may be at the center of a long-ago tragedy, she begins to wonder about her real identity. This story of suffering, friendship, mental illness, romance, and figuring out one’s place in the world will hook you from the start.

Ever Faithful: A Vintage National Parks Novel (Shadows of the Wilderness)Ever Faithful: A Vintage National Parks Novel by Karen Barnett.

All the local color you could want in a novel. This Depression-era story, set in Yellowstone National Park, sets a vivid scene as backdrop for a blossoming romance between a Brooklyn-born CCC worker and a young local woman working hard to achieve her goal of becoming a teacher. Both are wounded in their own ways. A mystery creates enough intrigue (with plausible red herrings) to keep you reading. I’ll look for more from this author!

The Sisters of Summit AvenueThe Sisters of Summit Avenue by Lynn Cullen

“Two sisters bound together by love, duty, and pain” – from the blurb. SO MUCH PAIN. The pain was overwhelmingly palpable. Ruth and her 4 daughters barely keep the family farm running during the Depression; her husband was felled several years ago by encephalitis lethargica. Her sister June is one of the “Bettys” — women developing recipes and answering letters to Betty Crocker. And their mother Dorothy is practically a recluse, hiding from the secrets of her past. Plenty of plot twists and infidelities, and the split-time story line can get a bit confusing. And then there’s that cheap trope where one of the characters wants to write a book, and you discover that you’re reading the book they’re writing. (Netgalley review; available August 2019.)

The Road She Left BehindThe Road She Left Behind by Christine Nolfi

Old family dramas and a lifetime of hurts caused Darcy, burdened by guilt over an accident that killed her father and sister, to flee her family’s estate, abandoning her sister’s baby, Emerson, to the mother Darcy couldn’t wait to escape. 8 years later, Emerson disappears, and Darcy is called back to her family home to help find the young boy and make amends to the boyfriend she left behind years ago. A good story with great secondary characters.

Like Never Before (Walker Family, #2)Like Never Before by Melissa Tagg

When political speechwriter Logan discovers he’s inherited his hometown newspaper, the last thing he wants to do is follow up on that or deal with the ambitious young editor who wants to take over the paper before it’s sold to a conglomerate. But Amelia is chasing a story that has Logan intrigued, and he finds himself trying to untangle Maple Valley’s longtime unsolved mystery, and falling for Amelia in the process. A light, clean summer read; part of an enjoyable series.

All this Time (Walker Family, #4)All this Time by Melissa Tagg

Bear, haunted by a guilty promise he made after his girlfriend’s death, wants to prove himself to her parents in the mission they founded in Brazil. But he’s charged with the care of his nephew and niece, whose parents’ and grandparents’ drug-trade activities put them in danger. He winds up in Maple Valley, where an old crush invites him to stay with her family until his situation stabilizes.

A Place to Belong (Maple Valley)A Place to Belong by Melissa Tagg

This novella provides some back story about Megan and her shop, Coffee Coffee, in the small town of Maple Valley. When Megan meets Eric, owner of a struggling local halfway house, she’s almost ready to put aside a dangerous infatuation from her past – until her baby’s father returns to town. A bit predictable, but fills in the blanks of some of the other Maple Valley novels.

From the Start (Walker Family, #1)From the Start by Melissa Tagg

First in the Walker Family series, this book sets the scene for the quintessential (and a little bit quirky) small town of Maple Valley. Screenwriter/novelist Kate needs a fresh start after disappointments in love and her career, and when she returns to her hometown, she runs into Colton Greene, a sidelined NFL quarterback who needs someone to write his biography as much as he needs a new direction in life after his injuries.

Sister Mary Baruch: The Early YearsSister Mary Baruch: The Early Years by Jacob Restrick

Rebecca Feinstein is drawn to Catholicism through a friend, and while she’s still a college student, she decides to convert from Judaism and, later, to enter a cloistered Dominican monastery. Various family members react in different ways, but a rift between Rebecca and much of her family continues throughout the novel. It’s a good story, but it reads as if an elderly man were dictating the book to a transcriber. I was not intrigued enough to continue reading the series.

Jane by the BookJane by the Book by Pepper D. Basham

This romance novella features two overly-formal characters thrown together by a 150-year-old mystery. Buttoned-up inkeeper Jane and impulsive novelist Titus are an unlikely pair as they try to track down the story of one of Jane’s ancestors while both visit Bath, England. Meanwhile, Titus writes Jane into his novel — and she suspects he’s using her. Maybe you need to be an Austen fan to appreciate this better, but I was underwhelmed.

The Road to Paradise (Vintage National Parks, #1)The Road to Paradise by Karen Barnett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In an attempt to escape the influence of her controlling boyfriend, Margie takes refuge in Mt. Rainier National Park. Her senator father pulls some strings to secure a place for her, but she chooses a remote, tumbledown cabin in order to be closer to nature. Fighting her own fears of her boyfriend when he follows her to the mountain, Margie also battles a rush to development that would destroy the park’s natural beauty — as well as her attraction for a handsome ranger who doesn’t share her faith.


Silver Meadows SummerSilver Meadows Summer by Emma Otheguy

11-year-old Carolina grieves her native Puerto Rico, which her family left so they could join relatives in upstate NY. She feels that her family is leaving their heritage behind, trying to fit in to their new place, but all she wants to do is go home and have everything the way it was. She befriends a girl at day camp, and together they find a tumbledown cabin in the woods, which they fix up as a combination hideout/art studio. But their camp, and their studio, are threatened by real-estate developers, and they don’t think middle-schoolers can do anything to stop it. Enjoyable novel for ages 10 and up.

Lucky Broken GirlLucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar

10-year-old Ruthie, a recent immigrant to New York City from Castro’s Cuba, is just finding her way to fit in when she’s in a terrible car accident that leaves her housebound and in a body cast for months. She endures unimaginable loneliness on top of the severe pain from the accident and surgery. This middle-grade semi-autobiographical novel explores the experience of Jewish-Cuban immigrants in the late 1960s.


The Catholic Working Mom's Guide to LifeThe Catholic Working Mom’s Guide to Life by JoAnna Wahlund

A practical guide bolstered by real-life honesty. The author speaks from her own experience as a Catholic working mom. There are chapters concentrating on specific concerns of moms with infants and very young children, but much of the advice in this book applied to me as well (a full-time, work-from-home mom of a teenager with a young adult also living at home). It’s a good antidote to the Mommy Wars and encouragement to working moms, whether full-time, part-time, split-shift, or what flavor of work schedule describes yours. Many, MANY plugs for the author’s Facebook group, which came off as a bit self-serving. (ARC received from publisher.)

Live Big, Love Bigger: Getting Real with BBQ, Sweet Tea, and a Whole Lotta JesusLive Big, Love Bigger: Getting Real with BBQ, Sweet Tea, and a Whole Lotta Jesus by Kathryn Whitaker

Not what I expected – and that was a good thing! From the blurb, I thought it would be more of a travelogue of the Whitaker family’s barbecue pilgrimage, and that’s not at all the case. Since I’ve never been to Texas nor had barbecue, I didn’t expect to relate to this book. Instead, I found that it’s full of honest talk from a mom who had to learn the hard way a lesson we all need to learn: perfectionism doesn’t get you anywhere. If you have a quiet place to read and a bottomless glass of sweet tea, you’ll easily read your way through this book in an afternoon, but its lessons will stick with you much longer. (ARC received from publisher; available late August 2019.)

EducatedEducated by Tara Westover

A disturbing memoir of a family that was beyond dysfunctional. The author grew up physically and emotionally isolated from others and was never allowed to attend school. Her mentally ill father and codependent mother created an unstable environment for the family that put themselves and their children in danger on repeated occasions. The author seems to be trying to move toward a place of healing, but frequently backtracks and undercuts some of her statements by introducing competing accounts from others. This book is enormously popular but I don’t see the attraction, unless you’re after a voyeuristic look into a family life affected by mental illness.

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

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: May 2019 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:


printed letter bookshopThe Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay. Madeline inherits a struggling bookshop from her aunt Maddie and finds that she has plenty of healing to do as she works to turn the store around. Meanwhile, healing is in order for the store’s two employees, one of whom had gone through a bitter divorce; the other is disconnected from her family. I originally thought this would be a cheap take-off on You’ve Got Mail – but I was very pleasantly surprised. Don’t miss this book!

memory house-hauckThe Memory House by Rachel Hauck. Split-time novels can be challenging reads but Rachel Hauck makes it easy. Beck’s policeman father died on 9/11 and she lost all her childhood memories with him. Pregnant after an ill-considered one-night stand and suspended from her job on the NYPD, Beck learns she’s inherited a home in Florida from a family friend she doesn’t remember either. She gradually learns the story of the widowed Everleigh Applegate as she reconnects with a childhood friend who’s facing his own challenges. Highly recommended.

georgiaGeorgia on Her Mind by Rachel Hauck. Macy finds herself pushed out of her job and dumped by her boyfriend in the same horrible day. She tries to make the best of things with the help of her friends, the “Single Saved Sisters,” and worries about her upcoming high-school reunion. She doesn’t want to return as a failure to her hometown. After several false starts, she finds a way to make it, after all. Believable characters and situation. I really enjoyed this story.

Sweet on YouSweet on You by Becky Wade. Warning: This novel will make you want to eat chocolate. And I’m not talking M&Ms or Hershey Kisses. You may as well visit your favorite candy shop and pick up some of the good stuff right now, before you begin reading. That’s because Britt, the heroine of the novel, owns a gourmet chocolate shop; her family and friends, including Zander, her longtime friend who’s had a longtime crush on her, get to taste-test her creations. Read my full review. (ARC received from publisher)

the waves

The Waves by Amy Matayo. Dillon and Liam, both forced to go on a cruise with Dillon’s family, wind up stranded on a tiny deserted island after Dillon tries to escape her family and goes on an impromptu excursion. The two must find ways to survive as they wait and hope for rescue. Good suspense; a clean and sweet romance.

gold diggerGold Digger: The Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor by Rebecca Rosenberg. Fascinating historical novel about Colorado’s own Gold Rush and the people whose lives were made and ruined in the gold- and silver-mining industry. I was amazed to learn that Baby Doe and many other figures in the novel were real people. The historical scope of the book was impressive, but the characters weren’t very well-developed. Fair warning: the book ends on a cliffhanger — you’ll have to Google what happens to Baby Doe and her family. (Netgalley review)

rumors and promisesRumors & Promises by Kathleen Rouser. Sophie Biddle arrives in a small town with a young child and almost nothing else. Wary of strangers, she settles in to work at a boarding house, hoping no one will figure out that the little girl is not her sister but her daughter — who was conceived in rape — and that her attacker won’t find her. The young minister, who harbors tragic secrets of his own, falls in love with her. I’ll look for more by this author!


confessionsConfessions of a Closet Catholic by Sarah Darer Littman. Probably the best book about Catholics written by a non-Catholic I’ve read. Justine’s family is Jewish, but nominally so, and she wants the kind of faith she sees in her friend Mary Catherine’s family. She decides, as only a middle-schooler can, to give up being Jewish for Lent — and immediately regrets it when her beloved grandmother suffers a stroke. Could God be punishing her? Her visit to the confessional is at once hilarious and sweet. A wonderful story of a young girl’s spiritual exploration.


letter to suffering churchLetter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis by Bishop Robert Barron. Writing in his own name as a Catholic, a priest, and a bishop — and not on behalf of his diocese, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), or the Church as a whole, Bishop Barron reaches out to readers who are wounded and disillusioned. Kindle version is now available for preorder. Read my full review, which contains details on how to order the book in bulk for your parish or program, at

be braveBe Brave in the Scared: How I Learned to Trust God During the Most Difficult Days of My Life by Mary Lenaberg. I binge-read this book in an afternoon. It’s THAT good. Mary Lenaberg is a terrific, honest writer. She does not shy away about discussing the hard stuff, and I give her a lot of credit for sharing her own struggles in order to encourage others. If you have something in your life that you need to grieve and heal from, but you haven’t been able to give yourself permission to do that, this book is for you. (ARC received from publisher)

our lady of charityOur Lady of Charity: How a Cuban Devotion to Mary Helped Me Grow in Faith and Love by Maria Morera Johnson. A beautiful testament to the ways the patroness of Johnson’s native Cuba helped her grow in faith even after she moved with her family to the US. This quick read introduces la virgencita — Our Lady of Charity, the patroness of Cuba. Johnson traces the history of devotion among Cubans to this depiction of Our Lady, a devotion that has continued within the Cuban-American community to this day. Read my full review. (ARC received from publisher)

catholic dad 2Catholic Dad 2: More (Mostly) Funny Stories of Faith, Family, and Fatherhood by Jake Frost. Most of the stories in this book are only two to four pages long — a great length for busy parents to enjoy. I enjoy Jake’s perspective on raising children as a stay-at-home dad, his appreciation for his own mother’s influence in his life, his gentle sense of humor, and his unabashed faith that shines through on every page. (Review copy received from the author)

Love laughter living saintsLove, Laughter and Living Saints by Rev. Charles Cummings. Clearly a storyteller at heart, Fr. Cummings notes that some of the stories in this book have made their way into his homilies over his 50 years as a priest. From vignettes of his childhood to seminary stories and tales of the joys and challenges of life as a parish priest, this short book comprises 70 stories in addition to Father Cummings’ own vocation story, which serves as the introduction to the book. These stories clearly depict the author’s care for his family and his parishioners, and his servant’s heart. (Review copy received from the author)

library bookThe Library Book by Susan Orlean. Ostensibly the true-crime story of a 1986 arson fire in the main branch of the Los Angeles library, this book was less about the crime and more about the history of the LA Library system, its iconic building, and the people who have worked there. If you’re a big reader and user of libraries, and if you’ve ever worked in a library, you’ll be fascinated by the inside baseball you’ll find here. If you want to know who set the fire, don’t even bother. Also note: this author is openly anti-religion and particularly anti-Catholic, so keep this in mind while reading.

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

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:


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.


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).


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 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!

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:


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.


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)


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 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!

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:


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.



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.


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)


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 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!

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Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Fiction and Fun for Summer

Here are 5 summer reading picks for readers of all ages.

For the Kids: A Staircase for the Sisters by Pamela Love

staircase for the sisters

Inspired by the true story of an architectural marvel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, A Staircase for the Sisters tells about the miraculous construction of a staircase to the choir loft of a tiny church where there wasn’t room for any stairs. I remember visiting this church during a cross-country trip as a child, and I was struck by the fascinating story of a mysterious carpenter who was an answer to prayer. Insisting upon working alone, the carpenter constructed a spiral staircase without nails or a center support — and then he disappeared. At the end of the book, readers will find information on the Loretto Chapel, St. Joseph, and a novena to St. Joseph. This short book is an excellent read-aloud for children 5 and up, and older independent readers will enjoy it as well.

For the Kids: The Pope’s Cat by Jon M. Sweeney

popes cat

Jon M. Sweeney’s chapter book for independent readers, The Pope’s Cat, recounts the story of Margaret, a stray cat who is adopted by the Pope (who likes to take early-morning walks outside the Vatican). Through Margaret, readers will get a peek at the daily life of the Pope, including a meeting with the Queen of England! Will Margaret be able to sneak past the Swiss Guard to join her new friend, the Pope, at dinner with the Queen? Cute illustrations accompany this story — and I hear that a sequel is coming this fall!

For Teens and Adults: Black Bottle Man by Craig Russell

black bottle man

Can a novel be both chilling and enjoyable at once? Black Bottle Man, the tale of a young boy caught up in a Faustian bargain, manages that feat. Alternating in time from Rembrandt’s younger days through his ninetieth year, the novel slowly fills in the blanks of a deal with the devil that turned a whole family’s life upside-down and left Rembrandt alone in the world and unable to stay in one place longer than 12 days. Imagine being homeless and always on the move for 80 years! YA novel recommended for high-school age and up.

For Teens and Adults: Bound 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.

For Grownups: Unveiling by Suzanne M. Wolfe


Unveiling, a luxurious read 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.
Barb's Book shelf blog title

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of these books (except BOUND, which I purchased), but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

#OpenBook: April 2018 Reads

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. (I’m a bit late, obviously!)

I had two business trips in April for a total of 7 nights away from home, as well as some other things happening, so my reading time was definitely cut short last month.

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


no one ever askedNo One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert. A picture-perfect world shows its inner ugly side when a proposal to bus students from a nearby bankrupt school district means that their school will now be racially integrated. This story is told from 3 points of view: Anaya, who grew up in the now-bankrupt district but who’s teaching in the affluent zip code; Camille, a PTA chair who made her anti-integration views known and whose daughter is now in Anaya’s class; and Jen, who recently adopted a child from Africa and who’s finding the road to new motherhood more than a little bit rocky — and not at all what she expected. Sometimes it was tough to keep the various points of view straight — it got distracting as the book went on for almost 400 pages. Overall, though, it was a good story. Advance copy received from publisher.

island of miraclesIsland of Miracles by Amy Schisler. When Katherine discovers her husband has been living a double life, she abandons her home and job to take a sabbatical of sorts on Chincoteague Island. She’s immediately taken in by the community and finds a job on her first day there. Now calling herself “Kate,” she makes friends with her neighbor and is intrigued by the neighbor’s brother, who’s in the Coast Guard and is clearly interested in her. Then she learns that she’s pregnant — by the man she never wants to see again. A Catholic novel with an excellent priest character. Some far-fetched elements (see above re: job), some editing/proofreading errors. Don’t judge it by its cover (which I think suggests a beachy feel-good romance) — it’s an enjoyable story with plenty of suspense.

sugarhouse bluesThe Sugarhouse Blues by Mariah Stewart. Three sisters must renovate a decrepit theatre in order to inherit their father’s fortune. They discover that there’s not enough money to complete the building’s repairs, and one of the sisters decides to take on some of the complicated art work herself, while another dedicates herself to finding ways to fund the project. And, of course, there’s romance — not only for each of the sisters, but for the aunt they’ve moved in with as well. Great beach read! This is book 2 in a series, and you’re definitely coming in late to the story if you start with this one (as I did). I purchased the first book to find out what I’d missed because I did like the characters, but haven’t yet had the chance to read it. (Netgalley)

wish me homeWish Me Home by Kay Bratt. A young woman running from her past (and her twin sister’s) finds an injured stray dog by the side of the road. He becomes her companion as she walks from Georgia to Key West, encountering some kind souls — and some terrible ones — along the way. Her journey leads her to an old estate where she’s taken in by the family who lives there, to help them run an animal shelter. She also finds romance. The book touches on mental illness, suicide, and life in the foster-care system.

shadows of hopeShadows of Hope by Georgiana Daniels. Marissa worries that her window of opportunity for having children is closing; after a miscarriage she has been unable to conceive. Working in a crisis pregnancy center takes its toll on her emotionally, even though she loves her work and believes in its importance. She thinks her husband is having an affair, but never suspects that it’s one of her clients — and her client-turned-employee has no idea, either. An interesting examination of trust, commitment, and the question of who’s at fault for problems in a marriage. (Netgalley)

every note playedEvery Note Played by Lisa Genova. This novel centers on a heartbreaking situation: Richard, a concert pianist, develops ALS. He loses his career, his independence, and his dignity. His acrimonious divorce from Karina, also a pianist who’d put her career on hold when his took off, becomes a factor when his illness robs him of the ability to live alone. Both Richard and Karina are forced to deal with mistakes of the past. ALS is described in brutal, excruciating detail. A good story, but given the topic, not a fun book to read, and I had a hard time liking either of the two main characters. I felt sorry for them, but didn’t really care about them. Loved the cover. (Netgalley)


never be aloneNever Be Alone by Paige Dearth. This was a harrowing story and is definitely only for older teens. Theook contained some proofreading errors. Chapters were very short; the flow of the story seemed choppy. This didn’t seem like too much of a story, but more a “slice of life” that wore at the reader a bit. Joon is out in the care of a sadistic foster mother after her parent’s death. After 4 awful years she runs away and tries to survive on the streets of Philadelphia. (Netgalley review)


I’ve got a bunch of nonfiction reads in progress. Stay tuned.

Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Thank you for purchasing books through my links!

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!

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Open Book: March 2018

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. I read several children’s/YA books, because friends had recommended them. Even though I’m no longer a volunteer in the school library or a teacher, I still enjoy books for middle-grade and YA readers.

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


summer of new beginningsThe Summer of New Beginnings by Bette Lee Crosby. In this story that starts out with a Frank Capra-esque setup, Meghan gives up her ambition to be a journalist when her father dies just before she leaves for college. Instead, she runs the family’s coupon-clipper magazine while her flighty sister takes off for Philadelphia with her boyfriend. When Tracy returns a few years later, a single mom with a toddler in tow, the family must face the fact that the little boy has special needs. In the middle of all this, a puppy shows up and captures Meghan’s heart. As she always does, Bette Lee Crosby has created characters you’d love to get to know in person, in settings real enough to be the small town next door.

anyone but hiAnyone but Him by Theresa Linden. Some of my favorite characters from Roland West, Loner, are all grown up in this novel directed at the new-adult audience. In a surprising twist right off the bat, Caitlyn wakes up one morning to discover she’s married to her friend Roland’s bad-boy older brother, Jarret — and she’s horrified. She also can’t remember anything that’s happened in the past two or three years. Her coworkers at the private detective agency aren’t much help, and Jarret’s trying to solve the problem by keeping her locked in the house and not letting her call her family. There’s plenty of suspense to keep this story moving along, between strange encounters with both Caitlyn and Jarret’s coworkers and Caitlyn’s various escape attempts. Jarret seems like he’s changed since high school, and Caitlyn’s biggest mission is to find out if that’s for real. (ARC received from author)

life such as heaven intendedA Life Such as Heaven Intended by Amanda Lauer. When Brigid discovers a Confederate soldier unconscious on her family’s property, she takes great risks to hide and protect him until he can be brought to safety. These risks include opening her heart to the soldier, even though she intends to enter a convent soon. Brigid’s inadvertent involvement in the Underground Railroad sets the stage for the two to meet again. This Civil War romance novel is packed with secrets, intrigue, and a dash of faith. It’s the second in a series, but works as a standalone. (ARC received from publisher)

table for oneTable for One by Leah Atwood. This is a novella, and I’d gladly have read a full-length story about these characters. Lauren, who writes a blog dedicated to enjoying the single life, decides to invite herself to dine with a young man eating alone in a fancy restaurant. Trevor had taken his longtime girlfriend there, intending to propose, but instead he broke up with her. This clean romance features believable characters and dialogue that feels natural, though it’s a bit heavy-handed with its Christian angle. I’ll look for more from this author.


Princess-CoverOnce Upon a Princess by Christine Marciniak. Young fans of “The Princess Diaries” will enjoy the story of twelve-year-old princess Fritzi of Colsteinburg, whose first chance to attend a ball is capped off with danger when a coup is attempted against her father. Her mother, sister, and a bodyguard take her to the Boston, MA, area, where Fritzi tries to figure out what one middle-schooler can do to set things right in her country and reunite her family — all while navigating the usual middle-school pitfalls. She’s smart and feisty, but not prudent: qualities which will both help her and hurt her along the way. Full review coming Friday! (ARC received from author)

jolly reginaThe Jolly Regina (The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters #1) by Kara LaReau. This is a beautifully written book for middle-grade kids, packed with challenging vocabulary and an interesting, if strange, premise. Two little girls (of indeterminate age, but I’d guess about 11) have been home alone for years, supporting themselves by darning socks, and receiving grocery deliveries at the curb in front of their house. They do everything they can to keep things as stable and uneventful as possible and to stay under the radar — until one day a pirate kidnaps them and they find out they’ll have the chance to reunite with their adventuresome parents.

leap of faithLeap of Faith by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Abby learned the hard way that her parents not only don’t pay attention to her, they don’t hear her when she’s in distress. Her acting out gets her expelled from public school, so her parents enroll her in Catholic school — and then are distressed to find that she’s interested in the Faith. Abby decides to capitalize on this: to get her parents’ attention, she enrolls in RCIA, but doesn’t count on it making an impact on her. This book was a surprisingly sensitive look at an adolescent’s faith life. It’s from a mainstream publisher, but it’s not at all condescending to people of faith.

smart cookieSmart Cookie by Elly Swartz. A few years after her mom died, Frankie wants her dad to be happy — and she wants a mom for herself. In between her schoolwork and helping her dad and grandmother, who run a B&B, Frankie sets up a dating-service for her dad and sets out to screen potential mom candidates. Her former BFF is hiding something, there might be a ghost in the backyard shed, and her dad’s inn could be in danger. Frankie’s other friend Elliott is a great supporting character. This book is cleverly written and a lot of fun to read.


good enoughGood Enough is Good Enough by Colleen Duggan. Subtitled “Confessions of an imperfect Catholic mom,” this book is surprising in many ways. You might think you’re getting humorous Tales from the Cry Room — and you wouldn’t be wrong — but there’s much more to this book than that. Colleen is open about the messiness of her life, from issues in her own childhood to the discovery that one of her children has a genetic disorder, because she wants to encourage other moms to move toward healing. This book is motivating, honest, heartbreaking, funny, and challenging. (ARC received from publisher)

futon j sheenFulton J. Sheen by Alexis Walkenstein. This is my first introduction to the work of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, and I found the selections highlighted in this book fascinating. My generation needs priests like Sheen, whose zeal for the Faith is evident on every page. Walkenstein chose excerpts from several of Sheen’s books, and has added journal prompts and a bibliography for readers who wish to dive more deeply into Sheen’s large body of written work. I definitely want to read more of his work. (ARC received from publisher)

our fatherOur Father: Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer by Pope Francis. Whether we reverently recite the words or sing them, they are the words that Jesus gave us. Spend a few minutes each day praying with this new book by Pope Francis. Read a paragraph or a chapter. Meditate on the wisdom you find there. And close by praying those words that Jesus gave us. A few hiccups in the translation, but overall a beautiful book. Read my full review. (ARC received from publisher)

Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Thank you for purchasing books via these links.

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!

open book new logo

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz