An Open Book: December 2023

It’s been 3 months since I put together a real reading roundup for #AnOpenBook. Maybe in the New Year I’ll get better about doing this consistently. (See, sometimes I can be an optimist!)

Before we begin, if you still need any Advent resources or a Sunday-readings devotional for Year B, check out my recommendations.

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:

nullThe latest in Antony Barone Kolenc’s Harwood Mysteries for middle-school readers, Murder at Penwood Manor, is one of those stories that will keep your teen reading late into the night. Xan, an orphaned teen who was first taken in by monks and then came to live with an uncle in a distant town, seeks to exonerate a crusader who has returned from the Holy Land and is now accused of the murder of a romantic rival. Xan is accompanied in his quest to save Laurence the crusader by two young women, one in formation at a local abbey and another who appears to be his love interest. (Review copy from Loyola Press.) Read my full review.


nullRachel and Ted Schluenderfritz of, collaborated on a new children’s book, The Narrow Gate, which is a parable about our human tendency to accumulate too much stuff. In this story, a community packs up everything everyone owns in search of a new location where there is water—the one thing they don’t have. But all that stuff they’ve brought along turns into a bigger obstacle than anyone realized. The book concludes with a page of questions for kids and a second page of questions for readers of all ages. (Review copy from Emmaus Road Publishing.)


nullNew from Our Sunday Visitor publishing is In My Mother’s Womb by Fr. Bill Deschamps, Christine Schroeder, Mary Roma, and Susan J. Bellavance, illustrated by Dan Andreasen. This week-by-week picture book that chronicles the development of a child in the womb, skillfully intermingling scientific information (the approximate size of the growing child, the formation of various organs, and the development of physical abilities) with Scripture verses, in a true celebration of the new life God has created through the baby’s parents. This book is appropriate for children of all ages and would particularly be enjoyed by a family anticipating the birth of a new baby. (Review copy from the publisher.)


nullSr. Josephine Garrett, CSFN, shares her spiritual memoirs in HOPE: An Invitation. I didn’t know what to expect when I opened this book, but I found it to be not only hope-filled, but joy-filled as well. That is not to say that the author takes a Pollyanna look at life, because she is very honest about struggle, work, and pain. But in all of it, she finds hope and encourages the reader to seek to do the same. There is plenty to ponder in this little book. “The entire life of a saint becomes an act of hope” (59). (Review copy from the publisher, Our Sunday Visitor.)


nullFans of local color and restaurant stories will enjoy On the Rocks: The Primadonna Story by Maria C. Palmer and Ruthie Robbins. Written by the daughter of Pittsburgh-area restauranteur Joe Costanzo, Jr., this true story is told in Joe’s voice and recalls his rise and fall as an entrepreneur. Joe’s superior marketing skills put his restaurant on the map, but his lack of good record-keeping regarding his charitable donations, along with his disregard for rules about things like the time bars must close for the night, eventually gain him the attention of law enforcement and he winds up spending six months in a white-collar prison. I wasn’t entirely convinced that Joe was repentant, but the story was entertaining, and the flavor of the neighborhood was well depicted. Be warned: there’s some strong language in this one—not a ridiculous amount, but it is in there. (Review copy from the author.)


nullKristin Contino’s novel The Legacy of Us is also a good read for fans of local color. This split-time story is set in Philadelphia, where Liz, a young jewelry designer (who has a day job in a fashion boutique) finds a cameo in a box addressed to her among her late grandmother’s possessions. Along with the necklace is a diary that provides details of her grandmother’s life that no one in the family had known. Liz simultaneously reconnects with her old fiance and meets a new guy who’s understandably reluctant to get involved with someone who still has ties to her ex, losing the cameo in the process and eventually learns to take responsibility for her own mistakes.


nullThey Say He Flies at Night by Amy Matayo was one of the most compelling novels I’ve read in quite a while. As the title implies, rumors abound regarding antique-shop owner Walter Lorry, who keeps to himself and sleeps on the porch of his store, even though he owns the house next door but seems never to go in. But Walter’s penmanship is so exquisite that Piper Moore’s soon-to-be mother-in-law pressures her into approaching Walter to design wedding invitations. Piper gets a glimpse into the real story behind the elderly man, and that changes her mind about everything she’d thought about love.


I’ve read quite a few forgettable novels in the past few weeks, as well. We won’t talk about those. But my Kindle remembers that I’ve read them.

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.

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 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz


An Open Book: Summer 2023 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 this summer:


nullA Cross-Country Wedding (Road Trip Romance Book 2) by Courtney Walsh is a fun follow-up to A Cross-Country Christmas. I couldn’t help but be charmed by these two characters—not the couple actually getting married, but their good friends who go along on a road trip that re-creates special moments for the engaged couple, culminating in their wedding at the end of the story. “Opposites attract” is never more true than for Maddie and Simon, whose longtime deep friendship might actually be getting in the way of their romance. And the clever banter does not disappoint. I definitely recommend reading the first book in the series before you dive into this one!


nullDedicated to the One I Love by Beth Vogt has plenty of funny moments to keep you reading. Romance writer Kylie can’t find a way to keep writing after her husband died, and suspense author Tate has been told he needs to add romance to his books. Forced into accepting help from Kylie, he discovers that she’s the woman he’s connected with in an online dating app. The scene in a bookstore where Tate is reading from his recent release is not to be missed. Enjoy this clean and funny romance.


nullRoots of Wood and Stone (Sedgwick County Chronicles 1) by Amanda Wen is the story of Sloane, a museum curator who’s dedicated to helping families discover and preserve their history. Her own family story is a mystery, as she’d been abandoned at birth. When Garrett shows up at her museum with diaries he found in the family home he needs to sell to get his grandmother the nursing care she needs, Sloane is torn between her attraction to him and her desire to save the historic property from the wrecking ball—and then learns of an unexpected connection to the house. I actually read the second book in the series, The Songs That Could Have Been, before this one, and found that it was so well-done, I didn’t need to have read this one first. I’d definitely recommend both!


nullThe Brick House Cafe and The Broken Hearts Bakery by Carla Laureano are so connected, I decided to review them together. I’m not usually one for magical realism, but this is a really well-done series (with two more books to come, one of which released Monday) easily drew me in—I preordered the September release immediately. The stories take place in the fictional southern Colorado town of Haven Ridge, a community that’s in decline compared to neighboring (real) towns like Salina, now tourist destinations. There’s something about this town, though—as the old-timers are known to say, “the town” knows who it wants to move there and stay there, and will set it up so that it becomes inevitable that those people will, indeed, stay. The Brick House Cafe introduces Haven Ridge and town matriarch Granny Pearl (a terrific character) along with her grandson Thomas and travel writer Mallory, who’s recently homeless after her live-in boyfriend dumped her for another woman. In The Broken Hearts Bakery, California lawyer Gemma returns to Haven Ridge to help a friend and reconnects with her high-school crush.


I received an unexpected review copy of An American Immigrant by Johanna Rojas Vann, and discovered that I couldn’t put this novel down! Melanie is a young journalist and daughter of a woman who emigrated from Colombia in search of a better life and a way to help support the family members who remained there. When Melanie travels to Colombia seeking a splashy headline that would save her career, she discovers the journals that detail her mom’s experiences as an illegal immigrant, experiences her mother had not shared with her or her siblings. Melanie’s dilemma of whether to share her mom’s story instead of the story she’d been assigned is at the center of this beautifully written novel about family loyalty, professional ethics, and the vocation of a writer. (Review copy received from publisher)


I thorougly enjoyed reading an endorsement copy of the upcoming YA time-travel novel, Royal and Ancient by Amanda Lauer, coming October 2 from Chrism Press. This novel is an illuminating peek into an era that’s frequently neglected in world history class. In this time-travel tale, Amanda Lauer deftly drops a 21st-century girl into a 17th-century world. Teen and adult readers alike will appreciate Bronwyn’s pluck and wit as she makes her way in an unfamiliar place and time and learns what it means to be persecuted for the faith. I’d recommend this one for ages 12 and up. At this time, preorders are available only through Chrism Press. (Review copy received from publisher)


nullMaria Riley’s pairing of Saint John Bosco, who looked out for children in crisis in his native Italy, with the story of a child nervous about his upcoming first day in a new school makes Saint John Bosco: The Juggling Saint relatable to any child who fears the unknown of a new experience. Children reading this book will discover a new saintly friend. Appropriate as an independent read for second grade and up, and as a read-aloud for first grade and up. This would be a wonderful book for parents and children to enjoy together and can spark conversation about how to handle new situations. A recommended back-to-school read! This is the third book in the “Adventures with the Saints” series. (Review copy received from the author)



The Life and Lessons of St. Zélie Martin by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur is a fascinating look at a saint I enjoyed learning more about. 150 years ago sounds like a long time, but as a working woman who owned her own business, Zélie faced many struggles we think are unique to our own era. This brief (52-page) biography, based largely on the letters of this future saint, details Zélie’s life, work, and worries, showing her spiritual struggles and growth. It’s also a compelling picture of life in 19th-century France. (Review copy received from the author)


Elizabeth Tomlin’s Joyful Momentum: Growing and Sustaining Vibrant Women’s Groups was the Catholic Mom Summer Book Club selection this year, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to reread this gem. It came out in early 2020, which was not the best time to introduce a book about how women can minister to each other through church groups. It wasn’t good timing for me, either. I was working two more-than-part-time jobs, had a senior in high school at home, and was dealing with the effects of a couple of medical emergencies members of my family had experienced the previous fall. Now, as parishes and ministries get back on their feet after the setbacks of the pandemic, this book is extremely timely. It’s packed with great advice, stories of Elizabeth’s own experiences with women’s ministries, and encouragement to women thinking of joining or beginning groups at their parish. (Review copy received from publisher)


null8 Steps to Energize Your Faith by Joe Paprocki (Loyola Press) is a simple, accessible book of hands-on advice when you want to give your spiritual life a needed boost. If you’re feeling stuck in a spiritual rut, Joe has plenty of do-able ideas that will help you break out of that frustration and transform your soul. This book is set up in a workbook format, with space at the end of almost every section for you to write a little bit as you work through the various ideas for renewing your spiritual life. Each chapter’s summary also includes several Scripture verses that support the concept discussed in that chapter. This is a good book to savor over time; I read a chapter a week during the summer and am glad I didn’t rush through the book. (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.

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 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz


Adrift: The Molly Chase Series Continues

The Molly Chase series by Rhonda Ortiz, set in post-Revolutionary War Boston (with some side trips to Philadelphia) is a delicious read. Grab a seat in your favorite chair, pour a cup of coffee (Molly’s favorite) or tea (but please, no oolong!) and dive in to this excellent series from Chrism Press. The second book in the series releases tomorrow, August 8.




Picking up right where the first book in the series leaves off, Adrift chronicles Molly and Josiah’s complicated search for a church for their wedding, Josiah’s venture into work on land, and some fascinating surprises in the lives of their friends. Some of the secondary characters in this book deserve their own novels! The espionage that figured into the plot of In Pieces is a major plot point, with two characters traveling to Philadelphia—as the yellow fever pandemic begins. A good deal of the novel’s action takes place in Philadelphia and centers on the lives, work, and social standing of biracial characters.

Rhonda knows how to tell a story, that’s for sure. I didn’t want to put this book down (and it was no different when I read the first book)! In this series, tough topics are discussed, but there’s plenty of friendly banter (so much banter—my favorite part!), nail-biting suspense, and painstakingly-researched historical detail to keep these novels from feeling too weighty. I know I’ll be rereading this book, sooner rather than later. And I’ll probably do so again when it’s time for the third book to come out (I’m trying to be patient and not hassle Rhonda, who has six young children, to hurry up with that—she probably never sleeps as it is).

From my full review of In Pieces, Book 1 of the Molly Chase series: Readers will cheer for the strong female characters and the smitten, determined hero who battle rigid social expectations and a villain you’ll love to hate. An “oh, no, he didn’t!” King David-style conflict, a Custom-House mystery, some PTSD, and even a little espionage make In Pieces a novel you won’t be able to put down. I think I’ve read it four times already.

I’ve linked to the books on Amazon, and using those links helps me, but you should know that if you purchase either or both of these books through the publisher, Chrism Press, you can get a sweet deal! That’s because they’re parternering up with for a book club based on In Pieces, the first book in this series (which you should definitely read before starting Adrift). Click the Catholic Mom link above for the coupon code, and while you’re at it, sign up for the book club emails. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, you won’t want to miss this chance to meet the author!

Chrism Press offers both ebooks and paperback versions of these novels, and it’s super simple to buy ebooks this way, direct from the publisher. As soon as you complete your purchase of any ebook from Chrism Press (or any Whitefire Publishing imprint), you’ll have the opportunity to download it immediately. Pro tip: ebook preorders often are available to purchasers before the release date! Download your ePUB file, and then send it to your e-reader of choice.



Copyright 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Photos copyright 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Amazon links included; your purchase through these links support Thank you!
I received a free review copy of Adrift, but I’ve already purchased 3 autographed hard copies (one of those is MINE).


An Open Book: April 2023

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


nullYesterday’s Tides by Roseanna M. White. A World War II novel set in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, with a little touch of espionage—plus a split-time plot that takes place in England during the Great War. There’s an offshore U-boat, a mysterious intruder, an injured English guest at a family inn who’s supposed to be tracking a German spy, and a beautiful young innkeeper who clearly has secrets of her own to hide. So good! I loved that characters from some of White’s other novels make brief appearances here; that was a fun little touch.


nullThe Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz. I think I saw this reviewed in a newspaper; it’s definitely not my usual genre, but the premise grabbed me: a writing professor learns that a promising but annoying student has died, and after no posthumous publications are made, uses a writing sample from that student’s college days as the basis for his own bestselling novel. Then he begins receiving anonymous messages: “You are a thief.” The suspense was incredible, and I kept changing my mind about who the mysterious note-sender could be. Warning: language, and some rather nasty (unnecessary) digs at Christianity, the pro-life movement, and crisis pregnancy centers.


Code Name Edelweiss by Stephanie Landsem. In this suspense-packed novel based on a true story, a group of amateur spies works to take down the Nazis who are infiltrating Hollywood during the 1930s. Leisl Weiss, a single mother supporting two children, her ne’er-do-well brother and stubborn mother, was fired without cause by the Jewish studio owners. She is recruited to work as a spy to help undermine the Nazis by infiltrating one of their organizations, at the cost of her longtime friendship with a Jewish neighbor. Interestingly, some of the spies who worked together were unknown even to each other. Highly recommended!


nullFinding Home by Irene Hannon. A sweet story of a romance between a construction supervisor and a single mom whose middle-school son has ventured onto the construction site too often for the supervisor’s liking. Both Scott and Cindy face professional challenges, and Scott has an elderly, ailing grandmother on his mind as well. Lovely setting and interesting characters. This book is the second in a series, but I haven’t yet read the first one (I will, though) and there was no problem jumping right in.


nullMemory Lane by Becky Wade. One trauma survivor helps another when reclusive artist Remy spots an apparent shipwreck victim in the sea outside her home on a remote Maine island. After she rescues him, she discovers that her mysterious guest (who acts like an aristocrat) can’t remember anything, including his name. Finding out his true identity, and how he came to be on a life raft in the Atlantic, puts the two on a dangerous path.


nullMy Phony Valentine by Courtney Walsh. This book was worth it just for the opening scene, in which Poppy sees an old nemesis in a coffee shop and pretends to be in a romantic relationship with the handsome, athletic man behind her in line—and he goes along with it. Poppy is trying to save her ego and her failing restaurant, and Dallas is a hockey pro whose public reputation does not at all reflect the real man. The banter between these two characters was terrific.


(From the “judging a book by its cover” department: what do you think of these illustrated covers on sweet romances? Normally I read them on Kindle anyway, so I don’t really see them as I go, but I’m not sure I like the whole faceless-character vibe that seems to be in cover-art fashion right now. The comments are open, so go ahead and weigh in!)



nullThe Mitchells: Five for Victory by Hilda van Stockum. After The Plot, I needed a literary palate cleanser, and Catholic Mom writer Katie Fitzgerald recommended this one in an article I was editing. I’m not above picking up a children’s book when I need a reading break after something very intense. This is a really sweet story—just right for independent readers who are on the younger side of middle grade, or perfect for a family or classroom read-aloud. Like Katie, I loved that the mom in the story isn’t shown as the perfect stay-at-home wartime mom with dresses and pearls and everything going right without a hitch; she’s overwhelmed by her circumstances but digs deep to be resilient and resourceful. And Joan, the older daughter, is both responsible and vulnerable—very much like her mother.



nullFrom Prodigal to Priest: A Journey Home to Family, Faith, and the Father’s Embrace by Fr. Goyo Hidalgo (Ave Maria Press). A touching story of a man’s path away from the Church, and then back into it after a moment of awakening while watching the funeral of Pope John Paul II on TV. Throughout the book, you’ll see how Fr. Goyo’s mother’s love and prayers were the key to his journey. This memoir is both a quick read and a book I wanted to linger over. I read the whole thing on a cross-country flight, but have found myself going back to it, mostly to savor the “Prayers of a Prodigal” that end each chapter. Many of those would make beautiful songs, which makes sense, since Fr. Goyo is a singer-songwriter in addition to serving as a priest in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and a social media evangelist (follow @frgoyo). Review copy received from publisher.


nullGlorifying Christ: The Life of Cardinal Francis E. George, O.M.I. by Michael Heinlein (OSV). I’m not done reading this biography yet, but it’s a fascinating story of a cardinal who lived and served during my lifetime (Cardinal George passed away in 2015). Stricken with polio during eighth grade, Francis George almost saw his dream of becoming a priest melt away when the Archdiocese of Chicago rejected his application to the seminary because of his physical disabilities. Yet George’s resilience and his academic abilities helped him to successfully pursue ordination with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate just as Vatican II began. This biography recounts the challenges George faced as a cleric in the post-Vatican II era and his eventual return to Chicago as its archbishop. This book is both a biography of an interesting priest of our era and a portrait of the Church during this time. 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.

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 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image copyright Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.


An Open Book: Self-Improvement Edition

#OpenBook: (Month, Year) Reads

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Since it’s January, “new year new you” and all of that, I thought I’d focus on some self-improvement books that have come my way recently.

I read these differently than I read fiction, dipping into and out of them and flipping around, rather than diving in (as I do with a novel) and not coming up for air until I’ve finished.

A different kind of planner

nullI was offered a review copy of The Saintmaker Catholic Life Planner, and I’m always willing to try out a new planner. This is different from any planner I’ve used before. First of all, it’s a quarterly book (and it’s as big as a full-year week-at-a-time planner already). It has daily, weekly, and monthly planning sections as well as goal-setting sections, a generous notebook section (that’s my “bullet journal” for various lists, monthly meal planning, things like that. There are three ribbons to help save my place in the different sections of the planner as well as three virtue tracker bookmarks, one for each month the planner covers.

There’s a lot in here, as you can see from this photo of the 2-page daily spread. I have not used all of this in the course of a day, but as the week has gone on, I’ve tried these various sections—appointments, to-do list, notes are my big three, and there are also gratitudes, daily cross, devotions, meditation journal, and examination of conscience. Slowly I’m figuring out what works for me. Even with all the structure this planner has, there’s room for flexibility and customization, which I appreciate!

Bonus features include weekly examination of conscience worksheets, discernment journal, prayer intention list, Catholic themes for day, week, and month, and novena starter guide. I’ll be sharing more about The Saintmaker planner on my social media as the quarter goes on.

You can save 10% on The Saintmaker planner with affiliate code FRANCISCANMOM.


Habits of Freedom

nullI am not very familiar with Ignatian spirituality, but I have heard it said (more than once) that the saint was very practical-minded, and I am all about that! Habits of Freedom: 5 Ignatian Tools for Clearing Your Mind and Resting Daily with the Lord by Christopher S. Collins, SJ (Ave Maria Press) is an excellent book for a new beginning.

Discerning how to proceed with life—not just with big decisions, but with more immediate habits of daily living—is crucial if we want to stay on track. To be happy. To be free. To be free enough to love and to live fully. (ix)

Each chapter ends with Exercises to Cultivate Habits of Freedom. These are great journal prompts. And at the back of the book, there’s a small-group discussion guide that makes me wish I were part of a small group reading this book.

My friend Deanna Bartalini has been dedicating episodes of her Not Lukewarm Podcast to a chapter-by-chapter discussion of this book, and I’ve enjoyed hearing a second perspective on what I’d already read on my own. I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.


Ignatius on Forgiveness

nullIt’s pretty curious that two Ignatian books have landed in front of me at the same time, but sometimes that’s how things happen, and that often means God’s trying to tell me something. The Ignatian Guide to Forgiveness: 10 Steps to Healing by Marina Berzins McCoy (Loyola Press) is an excellent guide to letting go of the paint that keeps us from moving forward with forgiveness, and with our lives.

The author walks you through stories from Scripture, Ignatian teaching, and real-life stories in each chapter, concluding the chapters with prayers and (often) practical ways to apply the principles described in each chapter.

I’m still reading this one, bit by bit in the Adoration chapel. This is definitely a book that lends itself to this approach.


Too Busy? Read this one!

nullI moved The Busy Person’s Guide to an Extraordinary Life by Deacon Greg Kandra (The Word Among Us Press) to the top of my “to be read” pile when I realized I’d purchased it more than a year ago and never gotten around to reading it. There’s no excuse! I’ve been a longtime fan of Deacon Greg’s work because his writing is clear, precise, simple, and accessible. There’s nothing complicated here; Deacon Greg is a terrific writer and inspiring storyteller.

Chapters are brief and can be read in any order. They include a meditation, which sometimes comes with an anecdote or three; “Consider This” with long quotes to ponder; “Try This” with a challenge; and “Pray This.”


This Bible Is Much More than a Pretty Face

nullThe brand-new Living the Word Catholic Women’s Bible from Ave Maria Press is undoubtedly beautiful, inside and out. I don’t know who did the book design for this, but the design team outdid themselves on this one.

I think it’s good to have a beautiful Bible. First of all, beauty invites you to look inside, and the first step to reading the Bible is opening the Bible. There are lovely touches throughout, from colorful headings to invitations to further reflection to the “Women of the Word” and “Living in the Light of Faith” and several other series of reflective essays sprinkled throughout the book. These essays, along with the boxes labeled “Take It to Heart” and the ruled journaling space on nearly ever page, offer opportunities to personalize this Bible by frequent reading, reflection, prayer, and writing. If you want to read the Bible more this year, this is the Bible for you. (Review copy received from publisher)


Visit the January #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 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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.


New Season, New Devotionals

‘Tis the season to think about a new devotional. Whether you prefer a daily or weekly format, you’ll find something to love about these five new prayer resources. The first three are weekly devotionals; the final pair offer daily reflections.

One Sunday at a Time by Mark Hart

I’ve had this book for weeks and have been impatiently waiting to really begin reading it—because it’s designed to help prepare for Sunday Mass! One Sunday at a Time: Preparing Your Heart for Weekly Mass by Mark Hart is a companion to the Cycle A readings that begin in Advent (November 27 this year), from Ave Maria Press. This is a companion to Cycle A (2023, 2026) so I’m hoping we can expect similar volumes for Cycles B and C.

You’ll want to have the readings available when you use this book (or a Bible where you can look them up). After an opening prayer, you’ll get a look at the message in these readings—and some behind-the-scenes info, always fascinating to me—and then there are some journal questions and a challenge for the week. You can even use the journal questions as conversation starters! This book will help you dig deeper into the meaning of each Sunday’s Mass readings and apply them to your life.

As a musician in my parish, I admit that I need to be focused on the next cue, to be ready to start hymns and acclamations at just the right moment. This means I’m not paying attention to what I’d really like to pay attention to. I look forward to using this book this year, outside of Mass, to help fill in what I’ve missed.



Loving God, Loving Others from Blessed Is She

Of the five devotionals listed here, this one wins the prize for Most Likely To Be Given as a Gift. Loving God, Loving Others: 52 Devotions to Create Connections That Last is a beautiful book that would make a lovely gift for a friend, mother, or sister. This multi-author volume is set up in a fascinating way: each of the six authors has written a particular section of the book, each exploring the different types of relationships we experience throughout our lives and sharing from her heart about her own path of growth within that particular type of relationship.

Authors Beth Davis, Megan Hjelmstad, Nell O’Leary, Bonnie Engstrom, Sarah Erickson, and Emily Stimpson Chapman offer three-page-per-week meditations, followed by a brief recommended Gospel reading and two questions for prayer and journaling. A brief discussion opens each section, and reflections are interspersed with simply illustrated pull quotes. The book is printed on lush, thick paper and includes illustrated end papers, a white ribbon bookmark, and a dedication page.

Loving God, Loving Others is not tied to the liturgical or calendar year, so you (or your friend) can begin praying with this book at any time.


Reflections on the Sunday Gospel by Pope Francis

Reflections on the Sunday Gospel: How to More Fully Live Out Your Relationship with God by Pope Francis (Image Books) is a compilation of homilies or talks given by the Pope at the Angelus prayers over the years and readings from the Church Fathers. Each weekly entry begins with an excerpt from that Sunday’s Gospel, but not the full Gospel, so you’ll want to have a Bible or missal nearby.

The homilies are brief, running about 3 pages each, with an additional page or so for the reading from the Church Fathers. The Introduction by Pope Francis is excellent, accessible catechesis about paying attention at Mass, teaching our children, and “encountering the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord”—and what the homily is there for in the first place.

Reflections on the Sunday Gospel is for the Cycle A readings only, though I had to go hunting to verify that information. The back of the book provides dates for each Sunday in the next 3 incidences of Cycle A (2023, 2026, 2029) and a table of sources for both the Pope’s and the Church Fathers’ selections.


What Matters Most and Why by Jim Manney

For anyone interested in Ignatian spirituality, Jim Manney’s What Matters Most and Why: Living the Spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola offers 365 daily reflections inspired by Ignatian wisdom. Each daily entry begins with a quote, mostly from Jesuits throughout history but from other sources as well, including Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, the wisdom of Alcoholics Anonymous, and occasionally Scripture. Following that is a brief two-paragraph reflection on this quote.

Jesuit spirituality ultimately invites us to a way of living and leading characterized by heroism, self-awareness, love, and ingenuity. (Chris Lowrey in the Foreword)

The entries in What Matters Most and Why follow monthly themes, including Awareness, God, Love, Freedom, Work, Desire, Humility, Compassion and Trust, Choosing Well, Relationships, Practical Truths, and Becoming the Person You Are Meant to Be. This daily devotional is a good way to dip your toe into this powerful spiritual way of life.



A Year in the Word by Meg Hunter-Kilmer

If your goal is to read the Bible in a year but podcasts aren’t your thing, Meg Hunter-Kilmer has your answer with A Year in the Word Catholic Bible Journal from Our Sunday Visitor. You’ll need your Bible handy as you use this journal. A one-year reading plan is the first thing you’ll find as you open this book, with a checkbox next to each day’s reading, so if you miss a day (or more than a day) it’s easy to pick right up where you left off.

You can start using A Year in the Word whenever you want, as the reading plan is not tied to the liturgical or calendar year. In the Introduction, the author explains that her reading plan (which includes a psalm or part of one, a section from the Gospels, and chapters from either the Old or New Testament each day) is not a chronological approach but one that mixes the “harder books” with easier ones (her words) to keep you moving along and motivated to do so. By using this reading plan, you’ll actually work through each of the four Gospels twice.

This hardbound journal, with its sage-green cover, thick cream-colored pages, and simple design, will appeal to men and women alike. Wide lined spaces at the bottom of each brief daily reflection invite you to record your thoughts, and a timeline at the end traces the writing of the books of the Bible and the major events in salvation history.






Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Images: Canva


An Open Book: October 2022

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. It’s been quite a while since I’ve done these! I always enjoy recapping the books I’ve read … but sometimes things get away from me. So here’s a taste of what I read this summer. Mostly, this is a Kindle recap, because if I got a library book that I’ve since read and returned, all bets are off.

Recently I reread In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this book. The Kindle version I purchased had a fascinating introduction that I’d never read before and isn’t included in my print edition. Rumer Godden is an amazing storyteller and this is one of her best; it’s so easy to lose yourself in the story of a woman with a late vocation, entering a Benedictine monastery in rural England in the early 1950s. (And while Philippa is clearly the main character, another principal in the story emerges as the heroine for me: Abbess Catherine, who famously prayed, “I can’t, so You must.” Best prayer in a novel, hands down.) I’d give it 10 stars out of 5.


nullI grabbed a Netgalley offer for a cookbook and I’m glad I did. Tastes Better from Scratch: Easy Recipes for Everyday Life by Lauren Allen introduced me to a new recipe source. I liked that the book was packed with pictures, because I like to see what I’m going to be cooking. The author also included hints for modifying the recipes to allow for different cooking methods (make-ahead, make from frozen) and also modifying for different tastes. These recipes were easy to follow and left the door wide open to personalization. This is a good family-style cookbook. 4 stars.


Victoria Everleigh’s The Hope We Vow completes her Vows for Life series. Sadie Rosati, sister to the main character in The Love We Vow, has returned to the faith and is trying to figure out what God wants for her life after her boyfriend doesn’t react well to learning the secret that’s burdened her since her teenage years. Sadie’s explorations lead her not only to new relationships but to the possibility of consecrated life; exploring that possibility opens a door for her to use her musical gifts in a new and unexpected way. A satisfying end to the series. 4 stars.


The debut novel Grieving Daughter’s Club by Andrea Bear brings together a cast of characters who might not ordinarily meet (much less become friends) but do so because of a book discussion group at their church. Many of them share the bond of having lost a parent. This is a wonderful story of developing friendships, and of women who literally come to the point of being willing to lay down their lives for each other. By the end of the book, you’ll feel as if these characters are your friends too. Worth a reread! 5 stars.


I don’t remember how I heard about Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, but this middle-grade historical novel set in Depression-era Kansas was a delightful read, despite the hardships 12-year-old Abilene has endured in her lifetime. Sent to Manifest on her own by her father, Abilene sets out to find out what really happened during her father’s childhood and unlock the long-buried secrets of the town. The side characters are just as winning as Abilene. 5 stars.


The dads take over the PTA in Schooled by Ted Fox, a hilarious novel about rival stay-at-home dads running a cutthroat campaign for the presidency of the PTA in the socially competitive school their young children attend. If you thought PTA moms were bad, they’ve got nothing on Jack and his childhood nemesis Chad, who seems willing to stop at nothing to make sure he wins this election. Plenty of politically-correct everything, but the story is worth getting past all that. 4 stars.


And in a completely different vein, The Girl They Left Behind by Roxane Veletzos is a deeply tragic World War II story, which begins in Bucharest when a three-year-old is found on a doorstep, abandoned by her Jewish parents who hope someone will care for the child while they hide in a neighbor’s attic. They think it will be just for a little while, but things don’t work out the way they had hoped. The story follows Natalia into adulthood and is an eye-opening look at life behind the Iron Curtain. Compelling, but be sure to have a light read afterward as a palate cleanser. 4 stars.


One of the best books I read this summer was Amy Matayo’s They Called Her Dirty Sally. Journalist Finn Hardwick arrives in a small Arkansas town reluctantly, assigned to cover the 30th anniversary of a tragic hospital fire that killed several newborns and young mothers. He encounters unexpected resistance from the locals who are unwillling to give up the town’s long-held secrets, and discovered that the hospital fire seems to have a tie to his own life as well as to the reclusive, mysterious woman known as “Dirty Sally,” who has not spoken a word to anyone since the day of the fire. 5 stars.


In Perfectly Human, Joseph Dutkowsky, M.D. describes his journey from engineering student to pre-med and on to a series of academic and professional opportunities that led him to dedicate his medical career to caring and advocating for persons (mostly children) with disabilities. It’s evident from the very first page that Dr. Dutkowsky loves his work, and that his patients have been as much a gift to him as he has been to them. Dr. Dutkowsky looks into the eyes of his patients and sees the eyes of Jesus looking back at him. One of the best parts of this book is the love story of the doctor and his wife. If you’re a teacher or the parent of a child with special needs, don’t miss this one. (Review copy received from the author)


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!


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

Where indicated, books are review copies provided by the author, publisher, or Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.


An Open Book: July 2022

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:


Shadowed Loyalty by Roseanna M. White. Sabina, daughter of a Chicago mob boss in the days just before Al Capone’s rise to power, discovers she’d been played: the handsome young man who’d been secretly courting her is actually a government agent seeking to take down her father. But Sabina’s secret love life is unwelcome news to the young man who’d loved her since childhood—her fiancé, who puts aside his own code of ethics to get Sabina’s father out of legal trouble. A fascinating story. 5 stars.


For a Noble Purpose by Kelsey Gietl. Built on a premise from an episode in the Book of Tobit, the novel follows a young woman whose seven husband all died mysteriously shortly following the wedding, before the marriage could be consummated. Immediately after the death of the seventh, Sarah and the slave woman she grew up with run away to join a wagon train led by Tobias Lark and his brothers, a family of men with extraordinary gifts who seek to start a new community in the Washington Territory. An interesting look at wagon-train life from a privileged woman’s perspective. 4 stars.


So THAT Happened: An Accidental Romantic Comedy by Katie Bailey. Instagram posts from this author finally got me to buy this book, and it was a fun story. After a flight cancellation, Annie winds up having to share a hotel room—and a bed—with her handsome but grumpy seatmate from the plane, and she even pretends he’s her new boyfriend when she encounters her old boyfriend and his pregnant girlfriend in the airport. But she figures they’ll never see each other again … until she arrives at her new job Monday morning and discovers he’s the CEO. This clean romance would make a hilarious movie. 4 stars.


Meet Me in the Margins by Melissa Ferguson. Assistant-editor Savannah works at a publisher whose CEO considers romance novels too pedestrian for their lineup, but she’s secretly working on one to pitch to a competitor. After hiding her manuscript in a secret room, she returns later to discover someone’s been editing it—and making it infinitely better. This begins a back-and-forth, complete with scheduled secret-room runs so author and editor will be guaranteed never to meet. All the while, Savannah wonders who else knows about the room, and who’s working on her book. Thorougly enjoyable. 5 stars.


Beach Wedding on the Rocks by Maddie Evans. Noah and Elsie, known for their pranks during their high-school days and former high-school sweethearts, team up against the guy who was the cause of their breakup 8 years ago. During the week before the wedding, they stage elaborate schemes to dish out some cold revenge, and find themselves battling old feelings while they’re thrown together in hilarious situations. As always, this author’s greatest strength is her characters’ banter. 4 stars.


Not Until Someday by Valerie M. Bodden. Grace has a plan to renovate the house she just inherited from her grandfather into a bed-and-breakfast. She also has a life plan, right down to all the qualifications and characteristics of her future husband. When former NFL great Levi shows up as the contractor for her project, she resists her attraction to him because he doesn’t check the boxes on her list. This Christian romance was heavy on the Christian, sometimes to the point of getting in the way of the story. 3 stars.


Last Summer Boys by Bill Rivers. I’m not even sure how I found out about this one, but what a gem! In this novel set in 1968 rural/Appalachian Pennsylvania, a young teen seeks an opportunity to save his oldest brother from being drafted. He and a cousin, sent to spend the summer outside riot-plagued Chicago, plan an expedition to find a fighter jet that crashed in the area several years ago. Plenty of local color and flavor of the time, when developers sought to take over formerly rural areas and kids could roam for hours in the woods and hills. 5 stars.


Blackberry Beach and Sea Glass Cottage by Irene Hannon. While I love the mainstay characters of the Hope Harbor series, I’m starting to feel as if it’s jumped the shark. Nevertheless, these are easy, sweet reads—just right for relaxing during the summer, and solid 4-star tales. I heard there’s another one releasing this fall, and yes—I’ll be looking for it. Because sometimes, this kind of book is exactly what you need.


Love and Other Great Expectations by Becky Dean. A medical condition after an injury ends Britt’s soccer career and dreams of going to college. Offered an opportunity to spend a week in England for a contest that could net her the money she needs to replace her lost athletic scholarship, she travels around the country on a competitive scavenger hunt culminating in a Canterbury-Tale themed final project—and meets a young British man on a life quest of his own. This clean YA romance was a terrific read. 5 stars. (Netgalley)



Encountering Signs of Faith: My Unexpected Journey with Sacramentals, the Saints, and the Abundant Grace of God by Allison Gingras. Interspersed with stories of Allison’s own spiritual journey as she and her husband adopted a profoundly deaf young child from China is “sneaky evangelism” about grace and the ways it’s shown to us—and the ways we hold our faith in our hearts. Allison had to make the faith visible and tangible to her daughter, but the Church made that easy for her through its traditions of sacred art and sacramentals. This book contains not only a fascinating testimony but also an invitation to make your faith personal, by incorporating meaningful devotions, developing relationships with saints, and learning to see God’s grace and providence in every aspect of your life. I want to read it again—this time with my journal near at hand. 5 stars. (Netgalley; available September 30 but you can preorder it now.)


Beginning Well: 7 Spiritual Practices for the First Year of Almost Anything by Joel Stepanek. I can never resist a “do something for a year” book and this one is a refreshing take on that theme—and a way better idea than making recipes from the same cookbook every day for a year (yeah, I read that one, AND saw the movie; bet you did too). In this new book from Ave Maria Press, Joel Stepanek offers seven spiritual practices to get you through times of transition. It’s a small book, and the author writes in a very down-to-earth, uncomplicated, conversational style. I recommend this easy, encouraging read, no matter what kind of transition you find yourself in. 5 stars. (Netgalley)


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 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz


An Open Book: June 2022

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. This has been a spring for reading books outside my normal fare! Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:


I’ve been bingeing my way through Irene Hannon’s Hope Harbor series. Set in a small town in coastal Oregon, this clean romance series features a terrific supporting cast, including Charley, an artist/taco truck owner whose powerful insights often set other characters on the right track; the priest and minister, good friends who engage in good-natured battles over who knows Scripture better; and Floyd and Gladys (I won’t spoil this one for you). They’re quick, enjoyable reads—perfect for summer. So far I’ve read the first 6 of 8 books and definitely recommend that you read the series in order:

Hope Harbor
Sea Rose Lane
Sandpiper Cove
Pelican Point
Driftwood Bay
Starfish Pier
and the last two, which I’ll be reading soon: Blackberry Beach and Sea Glass Cottage.

The Love We Vow and The Vows We Keep by Victoria Everleigh feature a man in his early thirties who struggles with his priestly vocation and guilt from his past relationships. The books include prolife themes as well as a focus on forgiveness (including forgiving oneself for past mistakes) and reconciliation with God and others. I wasn’t much of a fan of Tristan, the main character—he didn’t seem to know what he wanted out of life, but the female characters in both books were more relatable.

In the Shadows of Freedom by C & C Spellman is the first in a dystopian trilogy by a husband-and-wife author team. A young woman, off to attend art school in New York City, is tracked by government agents seeking to remove all religious influence from the country. The self-focused Amanda is oblivious to all of this. She trades obsession for her art to obsession with a drug her supposed “friends” introduce her to, and neglects contacting her own family until the crisis she finds herself in, a literal battle between good and evil, threatens her life and she decides to go home and seek refuge there. This novel was beautifully written and is a compelling story. I’m not a big reader of this genre, but I’m invested enough in the story that I want to continue reading the series. Book 2, A Nation of Tyrants, is available now.



Pudge & Prejudice by A.K. Pittman. A slightly overweight high-school sophomore in a large family of beautiful girls starts the year in a new school in a new state, and can’t figure out how to fit in, or what to do about her feelings for the football star whose best friend is her sister’s boyfriend. The ’80s references in this book were terrific—it takes place during the time of my own teenage years. I missed most of the Jane Austen references in this novel, because I’m not a fan, but even without that, it was an excellent story.


Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City by Jonathan Mahler was a fascinating look at the city very near where I grew up during my growing-up years. I recognized the names of most of the politicians and baseball players just from what I absorbed as the child of an avid Yankees fan. I remember many of the events that took place that year (the blackout, Son of Sam) and this book put things into more context than I had, given that they happened while I was in middle school. I’m recommending this to my mom (the Yankees fan mentioned above).

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 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

stock the shelves: the easy and free way to share Catholic and Orthodox fiction with our local communities

Stock the Shelves: How You Can Help Your Favorite Authors Reach Readers

I’m proud to support Stock the Shelves, a new joint effort to promote the inclusion of Catholic fiction in public libraries.

Did you know you can suggest titles for your public library’s permanent collection? The Catholic Mom community and the Catholic Writers Guild, along with several Catholic fiction organizations and dozens of authors, want to flood our local libraries with fiction by Catholic and Orthodox Christian writers, bringing our unique sacramental perspective to a wider audience.

How can you help?

Simple! If you are a fan of Catholic and Orthodox fiction, share your favorite titles with others by filling out a request form at the library or via your library’s website. It costs nothing except a few minutes of your time.
My local library automatically puts my name at the top of the hold list when they acquire a book I’ve requested. Even if I already own the book, I make sure to borrow it (I return it quickly). This way, the library’s circulation records show activity on that book.
To learn more, visit the Stock the Shelves campaign homepage and check out a wide variety of great contemporary Catholic and Orthodox authors.
Thank you for your support of this campaign—it’s an encouragement to all Catholic and Orthodox writers.


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images copyright 2022 Rhonda Ortiz, all rights reserved, used with permission