#OpenBook: July 2017 Reads

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

Fiction

things we knewThe Things We Knew by Catherine West. When I reached the last page of this book, I found it very hard to leave this family of characters behind. Catherine West has created a wonderful group of flawed-but-working-on-it characters, most from one family, and all of whom have been wounded by a family tragedy that no one quite understands. Lynette, the youngest and most wounded, holds the key to everyone’s healing, including her own–but it’s been used to lock up the traumatic memories of what a middle-schooler once witnessed. Addiction and dementia in some characters add to the challenges this family faces. I read this book because Carolyn recommended it! It’s definitely the best novel I’ve read this month.

murphys luckMurphy’s Luck by Benjamin Laskin. A very different romance–quirky, captivating and a terrific story. Murphy Drummer has the worst luck. Everything falls down around him, though he manages to escape unscathed. After he’s kicked out of school, his grandfather keeps him at home, where he tries out every hobby under the son while managing never to leave the house. Murphy manages to make a name and a nice living for himself as a blogger. Once his grandfather dies and he does leave, a chance encounter with a woman who always seems to land on her feet raises the possibility that Murphy’s luck just might change.

cub creekCub Creek by Grace Greene. This novel paints a disturbing picture in a beautiful setting. Libbie is running from a tragic past, but her impulsive purchase of a home in the middle of nowhere turns eerie quickly when she feels like she’s being watched and has flashbacks to some of the horrors in her formative years. Her relocation isn’t enough to keep tragedy from following where she goes. There’s hints at some sort of mental illness on top of Libbie’s abusive family background.

loves highwayLove’s Highway by Jane Lebak. This novella is part of the “First Street Church Kindle Worlds” series by over a dozen different authors. I’m a fan of Jane’s work so I read hers first. Casey, a young woman on the run, shows up in Sweet Grove and lets her guard down immediately when she sees someone abandoning a litter of puppies. She can’t help but be captivated by the community there, especially Peter, who’s willing to put off his own future in order to see his brilliant sister through veterinary school. Casey is challenged to learn her own lessons in sacrifice and trust. This story stands alone, but you’ll want to read more about the town–and I do hope Jane will be writing more about these characters!

loves prophetLove’s Prophet by Melissa Storm. A sweet love story that continues the “First Street Church” small-town romance series. Widower Liam has shut himself off from the world, including his young daughter, who’s on a mission to carry out her mother’s dying wish: to complete the family once again. Molly Sue has her heart set on Jennifer, an old friend of her mom’s; will old memories get in the way of new romance?

 

YA/Kids

spokesSpokes by Deanna K. Klingel. Two homeschooled teens team up to train for a triathlon after a tragic hit-and-run claims the life of Kelsey’s mom. With the help of friars from a nearby monastery, Kelsey and Brendon set out to solve the mystery that has police stymied while each of them works through emotional journeys through grief. Recommended for readers in middle school and up.

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!

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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

 

#OpenBook: June 2017 Reads

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

Fiction

cinder alliaCinder Allia by Karen Ullo. A Cinderella story like you’ve never heard it before, Cinder Allia fills in a grim backstory to the famous Grimm fairy tale. This novel answers the burning question every reader has about the fairy tale: why would Cinderella’s father allow her stepmother to treat her so badly? Ullo reveals Allia’s stepmother’s motives in keeping her in servitude and serves up a surprising twist in the form of a not-so-perfect Prince Charming. My full review is coming soon.(ARC received from author, who is a fellow member of the Catholic Writers Guild)

dying for compassionDying for Compassion (The Lady Doc Murders Book 2) by Barbara Golder. A murder mystery by an author whose mysteries include enough character development to satisfy readers like me who usually avoid that genre (and very little gore, especially considering the main character’s profession as the local coroner). Dying for Compassion puts a human face on the euthanasia debate and how it plays out in cases involving children and adults. (ARC received from publisher a fellow member of the Catholic Writers Guild)

shattered roseShattered Rose by T.L. Gray. A college student battling an eating disorder without a support system moves in with the wrong roommate and falls hard for the wrong guy, who happens to be her roommate’s cousin. If this isn’t challenging enough, the right guy comes along, and she doesn’t know how to trust him. Editing issues were distracting to this reader.

clairClair by Grace Greene. A sweet beach romance for sure, and a satisfying story. Clair’s friends get together at an exotic resort and put messages in bottles to see if they can attract romance. She does so halfheartedly because she’s already engaged. A year later, her heart is broken and she’s been conned out of her savings by that former fiance–but someone has found the message she put in the bottle and has come to seek her out. Part of the “Beach Brides” series written by multiple authors on a single theme.

sea keepers daughtersThe Sea Keeper’s Daughters by Lisa Wingate. Whitney, a restauranteur trying to save her business from a hostile takeover, returns to the defunct hotel her grandmother used to run in the Outer Banks. Her hopes of easy money from the inheritance of this hotel are complicated by her stubborn stepfather and unexpected romance. I’m a big fan of this author’s work. This is part of a series but it’s less a series than a group of connected books, so you won’t miss anything if you read it as a standalone.

rejected writers take the stageRejected Writers Take the Stage by Suzanne Kelman. This was entertaining, but less so than the first novel in the series (they do need to be read in order.) The rejected writers set out to save their friend Annie’s farm by writing and performing a stage play, resulting in a comedy of errors. Add in the narrator’s daughter, pregnant with twins and close to her due date but insisting on helping with the show, and there are predictable hijinks afoot.

feels like familyFeels like Family by Sherryl Woods. Single attorney Helen decides to go about her dream of having a family–against her friends’ advice, by deceiving the man who loves her. Helen was, for me, the least likable character in this novel. It’s part of a series; I’ll look forward to reading the others.

stars among the deadStars among the Dead by Marcy McKay. This book is a prequel to Pennies from Burger Heaven and in some ways even more difficult to handle. The subject matter–a young girl and her drug-addicted mother who turns to prostitution to support her habit and her child is harrowing. Graphic violence. (ARC received from author)

Nonfiction

costa-1Healing Promises: The Essential guide to the Sacred Heart by Anne Costa. This book is packed with opportunities for growth in prayer and devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Whether you’re already familiar with St. Margaret Mary’s revelations and their application in our lives or this topic is new to you, Costa’s book will invite you into a deeper practice of the Faith. Read my full review. (ARC received from publisher)

Overmyer-Soar-coverBorn to Soar: Unleashing God’s Word in Your Life by Melissa Overmyer. This journal is designed to be used over the course of six weeks, so it’s a perfect summer spiritual retreat. Each of the six chapters of the book corresponds to one of the stages in the life cycle of the caterpillar who ultimately becomes a beautiful butterfly. That science lesson we remember from grade school becomes a lesson for our souls in Born to SoarRead my full review. (ARC received from publisher)

that nothing may be lostThat Nothing May Be Lost: Reflections on Catholic Doctrine and Devotion by Father Paul Scalia. Father Paul Scalia’s new collection of essays has a unique structure: each chapter has an introduction written by a guest author, followed by several of Scalia’s own essays. Many of these were previously published as blog posts, monthly commentaries or bulletin columns. The detailed table of contents allows the reader to skip around as desired, choosing just the essay that invites itself to be read at that particular moment. The chapter introductions, by guest authors including Scott Hahn, Raymond Arroyo, Helen Alvaré and several others, may be read on their own as well. These essays provide not only important information, but an invitation to delve deeper into our faith through study, prayer and sacrament. I love that throughout this book, Father Scalia and his guest authors unfailingly express their own deep faith in God and affection for the Church and its traditions, welcoming the reader to ever more deeply participate in the life of faith. Read my full review. (ARC received from publisher)

witness to wonderWitness to Wonder by Regis Martin. Author and Franciscan University professor Dr. Regis Martin’s new book was written with committed Catholics in mind. Designed for the reader who wants to go deeper into the beauty and meaning of the Catholic faith, Witness to Wonder (Emmaus Road, 2017) delves into theology and poetry that energize Catholics in the appreciation and practice of the Faith. Read my full review.  (ARC received from publisher)

YOUCAT_BIBLEYOUCAT Bible. A two-page guide on reading the Bible is an eye-catching way to begin this book, designed for Catholic youth and young adults. This 10-step guide is supplemented with a quote from Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft. Throughout this study Bible, quotes from popes, saints theologians, and famous contemporary Catholics appear in the margin notes along with explanations of vocabulary and customs and references to other related Bible verses. Read my full review.  (ARC received from publisher)

Children’s/YA

finding patienceFinding Patience (Adventures in Faith, Hope and Charity) by Virginia Lieto. The first book in the “Adventures of Faith, Hope and Charity” series is perfect for the emerging reader. This sweet story focuses on Faith, the oldest of three sisters, as the family moves to a new town. Lonely for friends, Faith doesn’t know how to go about finding friendship with kids her own age, and she quickly discovers that sitting back and waiting for friends to find her isn’t going to work. Faith’s mom empathizes with her and reassures her that all she needs is some patience. This book’s lessons on friendship and patience make it an ideal classroom read-aloud. “Finding Patience” ends with a prayer for patience, especially designed for the young reader. (ARC received from author, who is a fellow member of the Catholic Writers Guild)

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!

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#OpenBook: May 2017 Reads

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

Fiction

The Memory of Butterflies by Grace Greene. Secrets have a way of coming out–and the longer you keep them, the deeper the repercussions. As Hannah prepares to send her daughter Ellen off to college, she begins rebuilding her childhood home, opening the door to the revelation of long-buried secrets that threaten the foundation of her family life. Hannah must decide whether to sacrifice herself to protect those she loves. Grace Greene has created a world that the reader will picture vividly. Some scenes will make you weep, and there are some good surprises in the story as well! (Netgalley review.)

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. This heartbreaking novel, based on a true story, follows several children from a Depression-era family who are snatched from their home and their parents under the guise of a corrupt social program that’s a cover for illegal adoptions. Parallel story lines detail the children’s experience in the Tennessee Children’s Home and the efforts of their modern-day grandchildren to uncover the mysteries surrounding their grandparents’ early lives in order to offer peace to their grandparents in their last days. (Netgalley review.)

Then Came You by Becky Wade. Carolyn got me interested in reading this author’s work after talking it up in last month’s Open Book. Then Came You is a novella that sets the stage for the Bradford Sisters Romance series: it’s the story of the three sisters’ early life with their father, Garner Bradford, heir to a huge shipping empire. The story is told through letters, phone conversations and journal entries.

True to You by Becky Wade. Nora Bradford, the middle daughter in the family, is a genealogist and owner/curator of a local historical village. Nora is still getting over a breakup several years ago, but she finds herself falling for the former Navy SEAL who’s hired her to locate his birth mother so he can find out more about his medical history.

Unquestionably Yours by Becky Wade. Oilman’s daughter Meg inherits her father’s business empire but doesn’t want any part of running it. When she decides to shut down his ranching enterprise, manager Bo Porter sets out to convince her to keep it open. He doesn’t count on falling for her in the process.

Love’s Prayer by Melissa Storm. In this sweet Christian romance, Summer arrives in town to run her aunt’s flower shop for several weeks. Ben, who despairs over his life ever getting better after his brother’s suicide ruined his family life, takes a chance on prayer–a prayer that’s immediately answered when Summer delivers a mysterious flower arrangement to his home. This is a fast, clean read set in a town that sounds like a wonderful place to live. Its message: love changes things, if you let it. First in a series.

Love’s Promise by Melissa Storm. Second in the First Street Church Romance series, this novel (like the previous one) is a quick, fun read. The Christian characters openly pray, attend church services and functions, and read the Bible, but the reader won’t feel like they’re being beaten over the head with religious platitudes. In this story, Kristina undergoes gastric bypass surgery and her coworker Jeff struggles with his father’s professional expectations for him as well as his feelings for Kristina. A meddling friend convinces him to keep his affection to himself (against his better judgment) while Kristina wonders if Jeff could ever fall for a girl with a weight problem.

The Bookshop on Rosemary Lane by Ellen Berry. After the death of her mother, a cookbook collector whose volumes are stored all over her home, Della decides to open a bookshop to sell the cookbooks and encourage community. Along the way, she learns some of the secrets her mother was keeping and discovers how to handle the breakdown of her own marriage. Some things fall into place a little too conveniently, but it’s a fun read.

Children’s/YA

McCracken and the Lost Lady by Mark Adderley. Readers will enjoy the suspense and adventure that follows McCracken as he travels the world with his wife and toddler plus a fascinating crew from all over the world–in a zeppelin complete with its own library, chef’s kitchen, and a wealth of scientific equipment. For ages 10 and up. Read my full review. (ARC provided by author.)

Turning in Circles by Michelle Buckman. “If only we had known.” That’s the refrain at the heart of Michelle Buckman’s latest novel for teens: Turning in Circles, a story of sisters, small-town secrets and teenage rebellion. The novel is a study in character contrast. Savannah, busy covering for her sister who’s sneaking off to meet Dillon, uncovers way too many long-buried secrets as she seeks a way to protect her sister from her boyfriend. You know this won’t end well, but the ending is not what you expect. At the same time, it’s the only ending possible. This novel for teen readers is a study in contrasts. Read my full review. (ARC provided by author.)

Nonfiction

When the Timer Dings: Organizing Your Life to Make the Most of 10 Minute Increments by Katharine Grubb. While the author calls herself the “10 Minute Novelist,” this book on time- and life-management is not simply for writers. Anyone who works from home will benefit from the wisdom and the exercises at the end of each chapter. Katharine is honest about the challenges those who work at home (especially parents who work at home) face, and shares family-tested solutions for handling those challenges.

Our Lady of Fatima: 100 Years of Stories, Prayers and Devotions by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle. For those who wonder what the Blessed Mother’s apparitions 100 years ago to three young shepherd children in Portugal could possibly mean for Catholics today, Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s new book provides both context and inspiration. Each chapter concludes with a section inviting the reader to consider the impact of Fatima for ourselves. My full review is at CatholicMom.com. (ARC provided by publisher)

Heads Bowed: Prayers for Catholic School Days by Lisa Mladinich. This book of prayers can be used by catechists, Catholic-school teachers or homeschooling parents. Prayers are organized a week at a time, and include liturgical-year themes as well as themes related to common school issues. There are even two weeks of prayers for teachers to use as they prepare for the upcoming school year. (ARC provided by publisher)

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!

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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: April 2017 Reads

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

Fiction

cherishCherish by A.J. Avila. Candice is a powerful DA who seems to have it all–but when she has a heart attack just before beginning the closing argument in the case that will make her career, she finds herself in a courtroom of a different sort. Now she must decide whether to repair a long-broken friendship with a former classmate, now dead; her eternal salvation depends on it. I couldn’t put this one down and will look for more from this author.

promise girlsThe Promise Girls by Marie Bostwick. A family of 3 “test-tube-baby” daughters, now adults, stays far away from their narcissistic, fame-seeking mother until an indie filmmaker decides to uncover the truth about their ancestry. I found the ending less than satisfying.

sandcastle sisterThe Sandcastle Sister by Lisa Wingate. I wish this story had been longer! It’s a return to a locale featured in previous Wingate novels. Editor Jen is torn between staying in Paris with author Evan…and suspects he might want to get married. But back at home, her sister is digging into family secrets and Jen needs to do some damage control. Enjoyable read.

sweet lakeSweet Lake by Christine Nolfi. A dutiful daughter takes on her fly-by-night brother in this fun novel, the first in a new series by Christine Nolfi. Linnie, struggling to keep afloat the inn that’s been her family’s business for several generations, has put her own dreams and her love life on hold while her brother (who was supposed to run the inn when he came of age but instead stole from the inn’s bank account and skipped town) enjoys life as a globetrotting filmmaker. It seemed to me that the novel was missing some back story; I felt that we were thrust into the middle of a drama without knowing the beginning.

idea of youThe Idea of You by Amanda Prowse. The pace and length of this novel was its biggest obstacle. The story of Lucy’s long-buried (and surprising) secret and how it affects all of her relationships was intriguing, but the telling of this story took too long. (Netgalley review)

Nonfiction

broken brain fortified faithBroken Brain, Fortified Faith by Virginia Pillars. Virginia Pillars’ memoir of a mother navigating the world of parenting a young adult with a brand-new diagnosis schizophrenia is at once heart-wrenching, informative and inspiring. Pillars honestly describes her day-by-day experience with her daughter’s illness and recovery, with a view toward helping other families whose lives are touched by a frustrating disease.
(ARC provided by author; full review coming soon!)

a gathering of larks by abigail carroll back (1)A Gathering of Larks: Letters to St. Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim by Abigail Carroll. A contemporary poet writes to St. Francis of Assisi as she explores his life with a focus on his choices, mistakes and faith. Abigail Carroll refuses to fall into the trap of stereotyping St. Francis–and that was a great relief. This book is highly recommended for anyone with a devotion to St. Francis of Assisi. Read my full review.

God is not fairGod is Not Fair, and Other Reasons for Gratitude by Dan Horan, OFM. A collection of essays exploring how “the very core of Christianity appears foolish in the world.” (p. 3) This makes it Franciscan to the core: St. Francis of Assisi spent his life as a “fool for Christ” in his quest to fully live the Gospel. Read my full review.

YA/Children’s Books

32 days32 Days: A Story of Faith and Courage by Ellen Lucey Prozeller. Historical fiction account of the life of a little girl in China who, with her family, was forced to practice her Catholic faith in secret. After her church was desecrated by Communist soldiers, Pei makes the risky decision to sneak into the church at night to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. The story is told from Pei’s point of view. Readers in grades 3 through 5 will learn about a child their own age who lives her faith in a time of oppression: a young, unknown Catholic hero.

con academyCon Academy by Joe Schreiber. Will has conned his way into an elite New England prep school, but discovers he’s not the only con artist there. Wagers abound as Will tries to avoid returning to a rundown Trenton, NJ neighborhood in disgrace. This mystery novel for middle-school and high-school readers was clever and entertaining, but the pace of the story was inconsistent.

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!

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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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

cenacle_panorama
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)

meeting-god-in-the-upper-room

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

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

Fiction

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.

Nonfiction

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!

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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

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

Fiction

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.

Nonfiction

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!

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Small Success: Live and In Person

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.

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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.

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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!)

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

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Photo taken by CatholicMom.com contributor Rakhi McCormick on Lisa Hendey’s cell phone.Shared by Lisa Hendey on Facebook.

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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

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

Fiction

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.

Nonfiction

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!

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