Book Review: Everything Old

Y’all know I love to read, and that I occasionally review books here.  I was enthusiastic about an earlier Amanda Hamm novel, because not only did I enjoy the story but I had always wondered why among the plethora of Christian romance novels there were none by or about Catholics.

So when Amanda offered to send me her most recent book, Everything Old, I was very excited. (The book was my only compensation for writing this review, and this is my honest opinion.)

So, if you are familiar with the Christian romance genre, you will know that series are very popular.  Usually the books are set in a quaint little town, and different couples find love (and God’s love too!) in each episode.  Often the seeds for the next novel are apparent in the preceding one.  Everything Old follows this clever formula, leaving me wanting to read the next one so that I could learn more about the supporting characters.

But the heart of this volume is the sweet love story of Gabriel and Ruth, former friends separated by a misunderstanding, who are reunited by–of all things–being pressured by a lady in the parish (I’ll bet you have a lady like this at your parish!) to start a young adult faith group.

Amanda’s characters are believable, awkward, endearing, and real.  Their dialogue sounds natural, and so do their internal monologues.  It’s easy to like them and easy to care about them and their problems.  Relatable is an over-used word, but it really applies here.

Of course I love that the characters are Catholic, which makes them even more relatable for me! And that while their faith is important, it comes across in a natural, believable way.  Like all of us, the characters hope to be saints in the making, but they are not there yet!

If you are a Catholic who likes romances, you will like this book–and if you read it, you may even learn about a saint or two!

You can read more about Amanda and her writing here.

Book Review: 67 Ways to Do the Works of Mercy with Your Kids

As a student in parochial school, I first encountered the Corporal Works of Mercy, as a list to memorize for a religion grade.  Thirty years or so later, I made my homeschooled children memorize them too, write them out in their best handwriting, draw pictures illustrating each one.

There’s nothing wrong with memorizing things, y’all.  But that should really only be the starting point when it comes to something as important and central to the Catholic faith as the Corporal Works of Mercy are supposed to be.

Heidi Indahl’s amazing book, 67 Ways to Do the Works of Mercy with Your Kids, is a comprehensive guide to moving from listing the Works of Mercy to living them as a family.  I’m going to rave for a minute here and tell you that I can’t think of a thing that Heidi could have added to this book to make it any better.  It provides everything you need to learn about, understand, and teach your children about the Works of Mercy, and then it goes on to provide dozens of examples of how you and your kids can do them in your community.

A new idea for me was the Cycle of Service: preparing your family for serving by learning about about the Works of Mercy and discussing projects in advance, acting in the community by serving others, and reflecting on the experience together afterwards.  Something else that was not familiar to me was the designation by Pope Francis of a new, unofficial work of mercy: Care for Our Common Home.

Implementing liturgical living in your Catholic home–celebrating feast days with special meals, lighting an Advent wreath, decorating your home altar, “giving up something” for Lent–is becoming more and more popular among Catholic families.  And that’s great.  But there are lots of ways to be Catholic, and I can’t think of a better one than integrating serving the least of these into your family culture in the mindful way that Heidi writes about in this book.

Heidi is an author, a blogger, and a Catholic homeschooling mother of many.  Along with her husband, she offers homeschooling consulting with a Montessori focus, and if I had known her sooner my adventures in homeschooling would probably have been more successful!  I love her blog, her Instagram, and her Facebook page, from which I frequently nab parenting memes to share because our philosophies are so closely aligned.  She is an authority you can trust.

Want to take a look before you buy?  You can preview and purchase the book right here.

For extra ideas that you won’t find in the book, check out this post on Heidi’s blog, and this Pinterest board.  And for more great books for Catholic families, visit her publisher, Peanut Butter and Grace.

Grieving Together: Review and Giveaway

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

Ten years ago, I lost our sixth and last baby in an early miscarriage, a baby who was planned, wanted, loved.  I’ve never written about it here.  In a very dark period of my life during which I lost first the baby, then my dream home, and finally almost every possession to fire, it was and remains by far the most painful of the losses I suffered.  I don’t like to talk about it and I’ve never wanted to write about it.

But I decided to share just a little today in the hopes of helping ease the burden of others who have lost babies.  There are so many of us, which is something I hadn’t realized until I miscarried and women started whispering words of commiseration: “It happened to me too.  It is hard but it will get better.”

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

When I was deep in grief–a longer period of time than I would have expected–when all I could do was lie in bed and sob while clutching a board book, the only thing I had bought for the baby, I felt very alone.  I looked online for resources, as one does these days, and found very little.  Eventually my husband and I conducted our own private little ceremony of praying together and naming the baby.  This did bring closure and healing to him, but my grieving process was very different.

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

I wish that I’d had a copy of Grieving Together: A Couple’s Journey through Miscarriage.  This is the book you never want to need, but are so glad exists if you do.

Reading it even now, I felt affirmed, comforted, accompanied.

Laura and Franco Fanucci have authored a much-needed treasure, a companion and guide to grieving together as a couple.  Having experienced infertility, miscarriage, and infant loss in their own marriage, they know intimately the grief of their readers.  That experience informs the book and their empathy is tangible.  Reading a book from people who have been in your situation is uniquely comforting.

I was impressed by the book’s breadth–it starts with the more practical aspects of miscarriage: what it is, what the experience might be like, considerations of medical treatment and funeral arrangements.  But this section is anything but clinical–it is still animated by Laura and Franco’s love and concern for their readers.  The next section covers grief, including the ways the grieving process may be different for each partner. This is followed by a section of practical suggestions of support from friends, family, the community, and the Church, making this a book that’s valuable to more than those who have suffered loss themselves.  Finally, the last section discusses life after miscarriage, whether your path includes adoption, another pregnancy, or no more babies.

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

This is a Catholic book, published by Our Sunday Visitor, with Catholic prayers and rites, concrete ways parishes can help, saints to pray to for comfort and guidance, and more.  Other than our pastor’s sincere sympathy, my parish offered no support to us when we lost our baby, and I suspect that is pretty standard.  So this book would make a great gift for your pastor, along with a suggestion for a ministry to serve couples who have suffered miscarriage.  The Catholic Church is well known for concern over unborn babies threatened by abortion, and sponsors ministries for post-abortive women; her concern for babies lost involuntarily and their parents should be a natural outgrowth of these pro-life convictions.

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

Grieving Together is available now on Amazon. (If you purchase it through links on the blog I will receive a small commission.)  I received the book free in exchange for my honest review.

Or you could enter the giveaway below and win a copy for yourself, a friend, or your parish.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

To Hear His Voice/Until I Rest in You: Mass Journals for Catholic Moms and Kids

I’ve written before about my discovery of prayer journaling and how much it has enriched my prayer life.  Since then, I’ve participated in online retreats, book discussions, and other practices that are helping me grow in faith–maybe I will share more about some of them in another post.  And now I’m ready to try Mass journaling.

Probably about a year ago I started hearing about Mass journals and seeing them online.  And I was curious.  Then my friend Ginny designed one especially for kids.  I thought it was a cool idea but I couldn’t imagine that Lorelei would be interested in such a thing.

Ginny just published her third installment of To Hear His Voice–they’re seasonal–and this time she launched a version for mothers too!  When I heard about Until I Rest in You, I knew that this was the journal I wanted to try.

Lorelei saw me looking at it online and asked me what it was.  When I explained, she said she thought that sounded interesting and she wanted her own!

So that’s how I ended up having the opportunity to review both the mom and kid Mass journals! (I received free PDF copies and was not otherwise compensated, and my opinions are my own.)

But let’s back up a minute, in case you are wondering what a Mass journal is and what you are supposed to do with one.  Ginny’s journals contain the Sunday readings with reflection questions and space for writing and drawing.  The journals could be used to read in advance of Mass to prepare, to follow along during Mass while taking notes, or to re-read and reflect afterward–or any combination of the three!

Now let’s talk about some of what makes Ginny’s journals special.  First of all, they are visually appealing.  The covers are so pretty, and so is all the lettering, and the decorative details throughout the books.  Ginny pays attention to detail, and it shows.

The journals are divided by week, and I love that each section starts off with a list of the Feast Days for that week, and is prefaced with an inspirational quote from one of the saints.  The kids’ journal also includes Reconciliation and Adoration Journals at the end.

The writing prompts are original and thoughtful, inspiring genuine reflection on the readings and connecting Scripture to every day life.  The prompts in the children’s journal are age-appropriate yet challenging.  And there is plenty of room to write in both journals, whether you are a mom with a lot to say or a kid with big handwriting!

The journals are available in PDF format or in hardback, and if you need a closer look before you decide, Ginny will even send you a sample chapter.  For a more detailed description and explanation of the journals, click here for To Hear His Voice and here for Until I Rest in You.  To purchase right now, click below!

If you purchase either book through the links in this post, I will receive a small commission.

Sydney and Calvin Have a Baby: A Book Review

One of the coolest things about blogging is getting free books in exchange for sharing my honest opinion of them here.  As I might have mentioned, I love books.  I love them so much that I have big stacks of them and so sometimes I don’t review them as quickly as I am supposed to.
But not this one! Sydney and Calvin Have a Baby has such a compelling premise that I could hardly wait to read it.  And since William had to have a root canal this week, I had a perfect opportunity to do it all in one sitting.  In fact, I had just a few pages left and I read them while sitting in the Arby’s drive-thru on the way home because I just HAD to know what happened.
I read a lot of young adult novels because my daughter loves the genre and brings them to my attention. But this one is different for a couple of reasons–one, it’s a specifically Catholic novel, and two, it starts with a rape and ends with a baby.
That’s pretty heavy stuff for a teen novel, and let’s throw in a couple of deaths, an orphan, mean girls, a close call at the abortion clinic, and dysfunctional families aplenty.  But the lovable, quirky main characters and the fresh narrative voice (Calvin, whose British accent you can almost hear) add humor and humanity without ever glossing over the truly terrible events in the story.
Perhaps when you think of a Catholic novel you imagine characters who pray all the time, lots of priests and nuns, and plenty of preaching.  That’s not what you’ll find here.  The Catholicism is mostly background–the kids go to a Catholic school, the families are nominally Catholic in that they go to Mass on Sunday and not much else.  The only truly devout Catholic we see is Calvin, and the Catholic heart of the story is in its redemptive message.
I enjoyed this novel so much that I would love to read more about Sydney and Calvin.  I would especially recommend it for a Catholic youth discussion group.

Author:  Adrienne Thorne

Publisher:  Gracewatch Media



Use the above link, or the one in the first paragraph, to purchase this book, and I will receive a small commission.

Book Review: Pope Francis, Builder of Bridges

It is a secret to no one who knows me, whether on social media or in real life, that I love Pope Francis.  So when I was offered the opportunity to review a picture book about him, I jumped at it.  I didn’t jump on the reviewing part quite as quickly as I should, for which mea culpa.  Read on to see what I thought–and know that while my review copy was free, I was not otherwise compensated for this review, and my opinion is, as always, my own!
I was hooked immediately by the title–Pope Francis:  Builder of Bridges.  You may know that one of the Holy Father’s titles, Pontiff, comes from the Latin pontifex, literally bridge-builder, and I have always thought it described Pope Francis especially well.
I love that the story starts with young Jorge Bergoglio, walking through Buenos Aires at his grandmother’s side, dreaming of playing soccer.  Since this is a children’s book, it makes sense to start with a child, someone young readers will relate to.
pope book 1
The book showcases events from Jorge’s Bergoglio’s life that shaped his future path, from his relationship with his faithful grandmother, his father’s example of hard work, his encounters with the poor in his city, to his decision to join the Jesuits.  It offers humanizing anecdotes, such as the movie nights he hosted for neighborhood kids.  The story continues through his election as Pope and after to some of the events that have happened since, such as his decision to wash the feet of prisoners, Muslims, and women on Holy Thursday and his writing of Laudate Si.
pope book 2
Visually this book is very appealing, with colorful illustrations that support the text, and accurate portrayals of the Pope.  I especially love the inside covers, which depict stained glass windows.
There are many details here for adults to appreciate too, like the glossary, the many direct quotations from the Pope with their sources provided, a timeline, and a bibliography.
Pope Francis: Builder of Bridge would be the perfect gift for any Catholic family.  I loved it and I am delighted to have it in my library!

Author:  Emma Otheguy

Illustrator:  Oliver Dominguez

Publisher:  Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Use the above link, or any link in this post, to purchase this book, and I will receive a small commission.

When We Were Eve: Finding Eden in a Fallen World

Eve.
The first woman.  The mother of all the living.  Adam’s companion.
What do you think of when I say her name?  How do you picture her?  Are your thoughts positive–or negative?
when we were eve
When I was offered a copy of this book by a representative of Franciscan Media in exchange for my honest review, I wondered what the title could mean, and my thoughts weren’t positive.  My gut reaction was to think of Eve as that weak and sinful woman who brought sin and death into the world through pride and disobedience, dragging Adam and all the rest of us down with her.
And my reaction is kind of the whole point of the book.  Our feelings about Eve mirror our feelings about ourselves–women who are no longer able to walk before God naked and unashamed.
But Colleen Mitchell encourages us to go back to Eden, to think about how Eve must have been before the Fall, to empathize with the weakness that led her to sin, and to discover our own “Eden instinct” that draws us to seek God’s original desires for us.
She encourages us to remember how good it was when God first made the world, and especially the unique place woman held as His final creation:  “As the culmination of God’s creative love, we arrive at the shaping of woman . . . in all the world, nothing exists that can fulfill the need for woman.”
This is a book that begs to be read carefully and prayerfully, and probably several times.  It would be ideal for a women’s book and/or prayer group.  Each chapter includes quotations from Scripture, reflections by the author, a story from an individual woman about her journey back to Eden, and questions for further study.  It concludes with a section of benedictions for your body that are incredibly moving.
This book made me cry more than once.   The personal stories shared in each chapter brought to mind some of my own struggles with body image issues.  As most women know, this is an incredibly painful topic that many would rather avoid than confront as this book encourages its readers to do.
But this is a joyful book, too, because it offers us hope that we CAN make our way back to Eden, and I recommend it to any woman who would like to reclaim some of that original joy.
franciscan media
 

They See a Family: Book Review

As a somewhat sheepish occasional reader of Christian romance novels, I have been wishing for years that there was a Catholic equivalent.  So when Catholic author Amanda Hamm asked if I would like to read her latest novel (for free, in exchange for my honest review) I was super excited.

That said, being used to the Protestant take on the genre, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot–a light read, something to wile away an afternoon with a hint of Catholicism thrown in.  I am delighted to tell you that They See a Family is so much more than that.
TheySeeaFamily
This is a sweet story that starts tragically, when the main character, Kay Donovan, learns that her sister and brother-in-law have died in a car crash while out for a rare evening alone, leaving Kay to care for two babies under the age of two.  Trapped in her apartment with her nephews and without their car seats, Kay immediately calls her friend William to help.

William is adorably awkward and has had a crush on Kay for awhile.  He instantly steps in and becomes an intrinsic part of Kay’s life as she leans on him for help with her new role.  Their friendship deepens and Kay starts to think of William as father/husband material.  But neither knows the other’s true feelings and misunderstandings abound.  Can they solve these problems to become a real family?

Well, of course they can because this is a romance and has to have a happy ending! But that doesn’t render the emotional resonance along the way any less real and rewarding.  I especially appreciate the many little homely details that are included starting with the problem of the car seats at the very beginning.  I also love the glimpses into William’s and Kay’s minds.  With their confusion and insecurities they seem very realistic, as well as likable.

As for the faith aspect, it’s more understated than in the Protestant romances I have read.  William and Kay are Catholic and talk about attending Mass together.  Eventually they seek the advice of a priest about their relationship.  They have a chaste courtship and their attempts to discuss sex are embarrassing for both of them.  I loved the subtle pro-life touch of William having a mentally disabled brother who is included in the story without making a big point about it.

They See a Family is available for pre-order on Amazon.   I’m so happy to have been introduced to Amanda Hamm’s work and am looking forward to reading more.

Not of This World: Finding Peace through Minimalism

There’s something about a new year. isn’t there?  So fresh and clean with none of the last year’s mistakes . . . yet.  It’s natural to want to apply the newness to our lives, to make them fresh and clean as well.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who resolves to tackle household clutter at this time of year.  When it’s cold out, we naturally spend more time indoors enjoying cozy pursuits, and I have a hard time relaxing when my house is making me feel unhappy and anxious.
I wrote a super popular post a few years ago, about our American problem with too much stuff, and last year I acquired the popular minimalism guide by Marie Kondo.  And I made some progress, but this is going to be my year.
Because last year I read a book that didn’t only talk about minimalism and explain it.  This book anchored it in Catholicism, and that’s an unbeatable combination.
not of this world
Sterling Jaquith, the author of Not of This World  (which I was given by the author in exchange for my honest opinion in this post) hit the nail on the head when she wrote this: “Nothing in this world will ever really satisfy us.  Our ultimate desire will always be for God, and that is why I believe all Catholics should embrace a lifestyle of minimalism.”  This makes so much sense to me.  Our consumeristic culture encourages us to fill our emptiness with more and more stuff, but it never ends, does it?  We are always looking toward the next “must-have” item.
As my readers know, I was forced into minimalism a few years ago when my house burned down.  I was involuntarily relieved of the burden of too much stuff.  My relationship to the things of this world was changed instantly, and the result is that clutter I might have once not given a second glance now makes me anxious.  I have intentionally chosen to acquire very few extraneous personal possessions, and I ruthlessly get rid of things regularly, but the stuff seems to pile up anyway.
I find this overwhelming, and the problem is hard to tackle.  I need help, and this book provides it.  The opening chapters explain minimalism, and offer personal examples of what can happen to people who live their lives piling up possessions.  I recently traveled to Baltimore to help my mother-in-law go through some of the stuff in her home of more than 60 years prior to her moving into a small apartment.  She is very happy in her new place, but getting rid of her possessions has been very hard–not just logistically, but emotionally.  How much easier not to buy things and become attached to them in the first place!
Sterling goes on to remind us of the minimalist beginnings of Christianity–Jesus was born in a stable, after all!  His followers were poor, and throughout the ages those in religious lives have continued to vow poverty.  Following their example will bring us peace and space: “We’re going to create more space in our lives to connect with the Lord . . . The more we follow His will, the more peace we have and deep down, this is what we all desire.”
For me, this focus on Christianity is what sets the book apart from other minimalism guides and makes it uniquely motivating for me.  But that doesn’t mean the other stuff is neglected!  Much of the book involves detailed week-by-week and room-by-room instructions for decluttering, along with access to printable worksheets to help you do it.  There are also special sections for larger families, homeschooling families, and people who live in small spaces.
I am starting on Monday to follow Sterling’s program.  Buy the book right here and you can do it too!  Even better, you can join in online and get explanatory and motivations videos from Sterling and feedback from other people going through the program!

Praying as a Family

Catholic blogger fail confession time–we are not That Catholic Family that does a  morning blessing, says grace before every meal, and prays a nightly rosary.   Not even close.
It’s not that we haven’t had good intentions.  We’ve tried off and on over the many, many years (26 and counting, y’all) of having kids to come up with a family prayer routine that stuck.  But to everything there is a season, and some of our seasons have been more fruitful in this area than others.
Every morning, John prays with William in the car on the way to school.  And he did this with the big kids from the time they were little kids.  I love that he does this.  And right now we are rocking the family evening prayer because Advent.  But we need to do better and I found something that might help.
CFBP-cover-1
 
Gracewatch Media has just published a lovely book by Jerry Windley-Daoust of Peanut Butter and GraceThe Catholic Family Book of Prayers is available for preview and/or purchase in a variety of formats right here.  I was provided with a free copy in exchange for my honest review, and I am going to cherish it always because it is a beautiful book that every Catholic family should have it their library.
Seriously, before I go any further I suggest you buy this book right now if you need a wedding gift, a new baby or baptism gift, or an RCIA gift (or of course a Christmas gift for the Catholic families you know!).
The book is aptly subtitled A Treasury of Prayers and Meditations for Families to Pray Together because it really is a treasure.  The content alone–basically every important Catholic prayer–would be enough to give it this status but this little volume packs in so much more:  illustrations varying in style but all beautiful, explanations of prayers and traditions along with support from the Catechism, suggestions of different ways to pray, and inspirational quotations on prayer from the saints are just some of what you will find within.
I hope this book will help me to continue our family’s evening prayer routine once Advent comes to a close.  Please do your family a favor and buy a copy!
the catholic family book of prayers

“The best form of prayer is one that . . . makes space for the presence of God within us.”

~ Saint Basil the Great