Sunday, January 30, 2011

Plan to Read This One!

My inner rebel often leads me to put off, or refuse altogether, reading those books that "everybody's" reading. I've been burned before. Like the time I read The Bridges of Madison County. There's four hours I'll never get back.

But I decided to break my unwritten rule when I saw all the advance press about unPLANNED by Abby Johnson.

This is the story of someone who has been there. Abby Johnson began volunteering for Planned Parenthood during her college years, eventually landing a full-time job as a clinic director. She believed the party line. But it wasn't until she assisted at an abortion that she fully understood what she had been advocating.

I purchased unPLANNED from a Catholic bookstore so that I could get the Ignatius Press edition, which includes introductions by David Bereit, director of 40 Days for Life, and Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life. You'll want to read those too.

This book will give you new understanding of what happens in an abortion clinic. It will give you new motivation to do more to help the prolife cause--and there's much to be done. And it will help you realize that those who are pro-abortion are not so much the enemy as they are victims of a seriously flawed line of thinking that has been fed to them for the past forty years.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Book Review: Praying Constantly

Father Benedict Groeschel, CFR, always a model of Franciscan simplicity, is true to his reputation with his new book, Praying Constantly: Bring Your Faith to Life.

There's no fluff in here, and no New-Age instruction to try "visualization" or "guided imagery" or Reiki massage any of that sort.  Instead, Father Groeschel focuses on the basics:  the Mass, Eucharistic adoration, the Rosary, and Scripture reading.

Father reminds the reader again and again, and dedicates the complete final chapter of the book to this: you have to make the time to meet God in prayer. Referencing the "faith without works" concept in the letter of James, he states that
"the person who spends his life in prayer but cares nothing for his neighbors has made a horrible mistake. Our prayer lives should give us the desire and the strength to love others, to help others."

Father Groeschel challenges the reader to keep the Sabbath, bluntly declaring that "the universe won't implode if you take a few hours off." Anyone who feels "too busy" all the time definitely needs to hear this. The reader is asked to consider the Sabbath a gift, rather than a burden.

Praying Constantly is an excellent guide to living a life of prayer even as we live our lives as parents, professionals, spouses and generally busy people. Everyone is called to "pray without ceasing." In this little book, Father Groeschel shows us how it can be done.

You can purchase this book here

I wrote this review of Praying Constantly for theCatholic Company Blogger Review program, created by The Catholic Company. For more information and to purchase, please visit The Catholic Company.

A review copy of the book was provided to me. I did not receive other compensation for this review.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

To Obama, it seems pregnancy = prison

So our President has taken the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade to affirm his commitment to "choice," which was supposed to prevent the type of horror that happened for years in Philadelphia. "Safe and legal," that's what it was all about, right? Yeah, that worked well in Philly.

Here's part of his statement (read the whole thing here):
On this anniversary, I hope that we will recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights, the same freedoms, and the same opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.
Nice. Basically, our President believes that men and women should have equal opportunity to walk away from the responsibility of the life that results from the choices they make. He seems to view unplanned pregnancies as nothing but inconveniences that rob women of their dreams. Note that he's not bothering to challenge "baby daddies" to step up and take care of their progeny. Why do that, when it's easier to walk away from your responsibility and make abortion easy to come by, presenting it as the only solution to a crisis pregnancy--or even just an "inconvenient" one.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Is This What "Choice" is All About?

This week in Philadelphia--only a few miles away from here--an abortion-clinic doctor was charged with a crime.


It's about time that it was described in these terms.

Surely the grisly practices at Dr. Kermit Gosnell's clinic weren't limited to that one location. Falsified ultrasounds, very late-term abortions resulting in live births, and the outright killing of viable premature babies born alive.

Is this what "a woman's right to choose" is all about? Why yes--yes, it is. This "choice" is always murder, pure and simple. Because someone is always being killed. Most of the time, that killing is covered up with excuses like "it's only a clump of tissue" but advances in medicine, including 3D ultrasound, show just how human, just how alive, a preborn child is.

There are only two good things about this case. First of all, this doctor and some of his staff are being held without bail. We can reasonably be sure that the unspeakable deeds that took place under his "care" will not be happening in that clinic again.

Second, this takes place on the eve of the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. And this case has people talking. This case has opened up people's eyes to some of what is going on in these clinics, under the guise of "choice."

It's time to tell it like it is. Stop with the euphemisms already. Abortion is murder, and it's about time we stopped pretending that it isn't by dressing it up with more-palatable words.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


We have folk group practice in a few minutes, so our front door is open (we've got a storm door.) Little Brother is very busy breathing heavily on the storm door.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm making the whole door get foggy, so I can make a...creation!"

Oh BOY...

Today, creation. Tomorrow, Windex.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Time to Celebrate

Thursday, TheDad and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary.

Whose brilliant idea was it to get married in January, anyway?

We wanted to enjoy our special day, but there were the kids to get off to school, and pick up from school, and a Cub Scout meeting, and all of that.

Plus, being January, there was plenty of snow on the ground and it was cold, too.

So we did the best we could with what we had. After everyone got on the school bus in the morning, except for Big Brother, who was enjoying his last few days to sleep late before college resumes again this week, we went to our favorite diner around the corner. Then we attended Mass together at our parish.

After church, we're such exciting people that we dropped off my van to get some much-needed repairs (like putting the "magic" back in the "magic door" that doesn't like cold weather--that automatic sliding door has to be fixed every single winter). Then we zipped over to Center City Philadelphia to have lunch at our favorite spot.

No, not The Four Seasons. Not Ruth's Chris Steakhouse either. And not the latest gourmet Asian-Fusion-French-Barbecue place. In fact, we didn't choose any place with huge prices and tiny portions.

We went to Reading Terminal Market, where I insisted on dragging TheDad up and down every last aisle of the place, inspecting all the options, before we chose what we'd have for lunch. Of course, each of us picked something from opposite ends of the market. We met at the tables in the middle and ate together.

Big Brother agreed to pick up his sister after track practice so TheDad and I could go out to eat. There's a cafe in a nearby town that we enjoy--we usually celebrate our anniversary there, and we have a date there again in the neighborhood of Valentine's Day. Because it's always best to eat at places without parking lots during the winter, where you have to fight for spots on the street and step in giant snow piles. I always get the same thing when we go there, but this year the menu has changed (new owners) and I'll admit that was a bit of a disappointment. But the food's great and the atmosphere is nice too. You can't beat dining with real silverware in a 30-seat restaurant that almost never contains someone else's children. Let's face it: I love kids and enjoy being around them. But when I've arranged for child care for my own kids so I can have an evening out with my husband, the last thing I want to hear is someone else's kids.

Twenty years is a big deal. We didn't commemorate those years with something big, but we did the best we could to take the day off (I didn't even do any laundry!) and enjoy it with each other. At least until it was time for Cub Scouts. At that point, TheDad was on his own.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

First, Cause No Panic

This morning the kids at Little Brother's school attended Mass. He likes it when I go to the school Masses, so I do that when I can. Even though it means an extra half-hour out of my day (I go to daily Mass, but with no music and only 50 communicants, as opposed to 250+, it goes more quickly).

It's a good thing I was there today.

Had I not been there, I'd have missed the extremely cute sight of the kindergarten classes processing in, before the priest, while everyone sang "O Come All Ye Faithful." Each little student wore a homemade crown and carried a picture of a present, that he had colored himself. As the kids walked to the front of the church, they placed these presents in front of the Nativity scene. SO cute!

Had I not been there, I'd have missed a very interesting homily by a priest who has been living his vocation for over 50 years.

Had I not been there, I would have been sitting in another church, with my cell phone off, basically unreachable. And that would have been a bad thing, because Little Brother fainted sometime between the "Holy Holy" and the Memorial Acclamation.

I saw some teachers rushing toward the choir area (up front, in an alcove near the altar). Another teacher was running up the center aisle. She saw me and mouthed Little Brother's name. I grabbed my coat and handbag and rushed out of the pew, just as the Phys. Ed. teacher led Little Brother out the door that adjoins the choir area.

I took off for the main church exit, which was closer, then ran through the school hallway and let them in through the side door as the teacher was waving at the nurse's office window, trying to get her attention, so she could have someone open the door. Everyone else was in church.

The teacher was supporting Little Brother as I opened the door. I took him from there as she said, "Oh, you're here! That's good!" Then I led him slowly to the nurse's office. We sat him down on a chair, but his pale face and weak expression convinced me that he needed to lie down. So I asked her if he could rest on the cot in the office.

He didn't have a fever, but I was definitely taking him home, so I left them there while I ran upstairs to his classroom to find his coat and backpack. His teacher was in the nurse's office when I returned, and she teased me about stopping my kids from doing things like this (she's the one who jumped over pews when Middle Sister passed out in church a couple of years ago.)

For the record, we're now three for three as far as fainting in church. No surprise there; I used to do that myself, as did my dad, my mom, and my uncle. The kids come by this honestly.

Anyway, the nurse started speculating on what could be wrong with Little Brother that caused him to faint. After I detailed the breakfast he'd eaten (two slices of French toast and four slices of regular toast) she figured it wasn't that.

"It might be the flu," she commented. "When you were upstairs he said that his throat hurts. That's how this flu starts, with a sore throat. You know, three people in Pennsylvania have died from the flu already this year."

I was hoping Little Brother wasn't paying attention, but I hoped wrong. He's eight years old and very smart. His ears work just fine, even when the rest of him isn't feeling so great at the moment. And she was sitting right there at the foot of the little cot he was lying on.

In the car, on the way home, he wondered if he might have the flu. He mentioned that people died from the flu. I spent the rest of the ride reassuring him that he's fine and that he won't be dying anytime soon.

His temp did hit 99 in the late afternoon, though he had no fever this morning. But his appetite's been great. He ate the entire contents of his lunchbox before 11:30, and plowed his way through a big bowl of strawberries, two Pop-Tarts, and a lot of saltines before eating two helpings of spaghetti and meatballs for dinner.

I am more than pleased by how quickly the teachers acted when they noticed Little Brother's distress, and the concern they showed. But the nurse's bedside manner leaves much to be desired. Did she really need to scare a little boy who was probably plenty scared already about what had just happened? Did she need to suggest that he might have an illness that causes people to die?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


Laziness is the mother of ingenuity. I firmly believe that this is true. While the saying goes that "necessity is the mother of invention," in my experience, most clever creations wind up falling in the category of Saving Time And/Or Effort.

One of my very favorite books--from the time I was about ten or so--has been Cheaper by the Dozen. I was always fascinated by the parents' line of work: they were efficiency experts. I'm a big fan of efficiency, because I learned pretty early (by second grade or so) that if you got your work done quickly, you had more time to read.

Things haven't changed. I'd still rather read than mop, as evidenced by the state of my kitchen floor. And while I loved the idea that the Gilbreths figured out the quickest way to get something done, I haven't followed it to the extreme of stalking my children in the bathroom to time their personal hygiene routine. (Then again, some of that, in the Gilbreth's case, was surely due to the 12-children, 1-bathroom situation.)

Back in high school, I worked in a bakery. I figured out that I could add up the total of people's purchases in my head while I bagged the bread or tied the cake boxes. That way, I wouldn't have to manually enter all the prices into the cash register. It drove my boss nuts, but it helped turn over the customers a whole lot faster (a boon on busy weekend mornings).

Now, I'll brown several pounds of ground beef at a time so I can have quick tacos or skillet stroganoff later. I route my errands, saving myself time and gas.

I guess shortcuts are generally good, if you use them to free you up for what really matters. Like reading. Or playing "U-Build Battleship" or "Rack-O" with Little Brother.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Books Read in 2011

To be continually updated as I read...

1. Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin. Novel about a young mom whose 5-year-old is injured at a campfire; she and her son's plastic surgeon fall in love. Two narrators: this mom, and the plastic surgeon's wife, take turns telling the story. Excellent story! A.

2. Happy Ever After by Nora Roberts. This one was a little too graphic for my taste, but it's the last one in a series of four that my cousin and I have both been reading. Roberts' Bride Quartet tells the stories of four women who run a wedding business: photographer, florist, baker and coordinator, and how each of them becomes engaged. Predictable? Yes--but there is still a part of me that wishes I was as organized as the main character in this story! The characters were interesting. C+.

3. As Young As We Feel by Melody Carlson. Four women attend a class reunion and run into their old friends from first grade--all named Linda (so they all wound up using their middle names). Though they drifted apart in high school and beyond, they wind up coming back together and all are drawn to their hometown. B+.

4. All I Can Handle: I'm No Mother Teresa by Kim Stagliano. I heard about this book on The Catholics Next Door and wanted to read it. This is the memoir of a mom whose 3 daughters are all autistic, to varying degrees. Stagliano pulls no punches--she is wide open about what she believes, how she works to raise her children the best way she can, and her feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted. I'm not sure I buy the vaccination theory of autism, and the book was heavy on that by the end. But it's an excellent look into how one family deals with life with three handicapped children. Language alert--while subject matter may be fine for high schoolers, Stagliano has a sailor's vocabulary. Kindle edition. B.

5. Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes. A young woman who left home after she became pregnant, never telling the baby's father--or her own--returns with her 5-year-old child because she is dying of cancer. This novel tells how she prepares her young daughter for life without a mom. Heartbreaking--and amazing. Kindle edition. A.

6. Room by Emma Donoghue. If you can only read ONE book this year, this should be the one. Told from the perspective of 5-year-old Jack, this is the story of a little boy who spends his entire first 5 years in an 11-by-11 room. His mother was kidnapped as an older teenager and forced to live in this backyard prison by her captor, who fathered her two children (the first was stillborn). But the mom knows that they can't stay there forever. Don't miss this book. A+!!

7. Rachel's Contrition by Michelle Buckman. There's been a lot of buzz about this book--and it's definitely worth the read. It's a tough story to read--a young mother deals with losing her mind after she loses a child. But the story of how she helps a young girl in crisis while enduring her own crisis is a touching one, with a compelling twist at the end. A+.

8. Faithful Place by Tana French. A murder mystery--not my usual fare, but this was quite good. Set in Ireland, this story has not one but two murders to solve. Is it a sign of a good reader or a poor writer that I figured out "whodunit" by page 118 of a 400-page book? No, I didn't look ahead to see if I was right, and I'm glad I persevered and read the whole story. I recommend this! A.

9. Living Oprah by Robyn Okrant. I saw this on the library shelf and was intrigued. An artist gets the idea to spend a year of her life taking every bit of advice that Oprah Winfrey dishes out. Sometimes that worked, sometimes not. I was not disabused of any opinions I have about Oprah, and I've probably watched her show 5 times. I'm not interested in Oprah, but this experiment fascinated me. She gave over an awful lot of control of her life to a TV personality she'd never met. Then she got a book deal. If you're interested in what makes people tick, this is a good book for you. B.

10. Unplanned by Abby Johnson. Reviewed here.

11. Danny Gospel by David Athey. I found this to be a strange, strange book. It was like reading about someone's dreams. I'm not giving it a grade; I barely was able to finish it.

12. Hearts on a String by Kris Radish. This was a fun book, with some interesting twists and turns. The premise: 5 women wind up sharing a hotel suite because their flights are cancelled due to severe weather. It turns into a journey of self-discovery for all of them. I'll look for more by this author! B+.

13. A Scattered Life by Karen McQuestion. This novel focuses on the lives of a few suburban women. One loves--but is a little overwhelmed by--her many children; the other has only one child and wants to expand her horizons once that child starts school. Their friendship, as well as one woman's relationship with her mother-in-law, are the subject of this excellent book. A.

14. Left Neglected by Lisa Genova. A "power mom" suffers a brain injury. This is a before, during, and after novel. The author, a neuroscientist, explores what it is like to have a brain injury that causes the sufferer to lost the ability to perceive anything coming from the left side of the body. Fascinating book! A+.

15. Gone to Green by Judy Pace Christie. The story of a journalist who inherits a small-town newspaper. Will she stay and make a difference--or sell and return to the big city? Enjoyable Christian novel. B.

16. The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell. It's two stories, alternating chapter by chapter, and you know they're going to somehow link up at the end. Exactly HOW is the surprise. There's Lexie, an artist/journalist in 1950s/60s London. And there's Elina and her husband, new parents both facing crises of memory. It didn't turn out as I suspected it would, but that didn't mean the ending wasn't plausible. Good stuff! B+.

17. Rescue by Anita Shreve. An EMT responds to a car accident and winds up falling in love with a woman who caused the accident by driving while intoxicated. How does this play out 18 years later when the woman is long gone and the EMT is raising their daughter alone? This was a well-written, compelling story. A.

18. Wading Home by Rosalyn Story. Kindle edition. Hurricane-Katrina fiction, finely done. The story of a young jazz musician who only wants to get out of town and run toward fame, and his father who is attached to his neighborhood and to some bayou land outside the city. Just as the storm hits, a challenge to the ownership of the land is also posed. Highly recommended! A+.

19. Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland. The technical details behind the manufacture of stained-glass objects were fascinating; the main character, though, irritated me. The book went on overlong, and ended abruptly. C+.

20. The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond. Memoir of one section of this popular food blogger's life: from the day she met "Marlboro Man" to their oldest child's infancy. If you like her blog, you'll like this book. Drummond writes like she's telling the story to her best friend over tea. B+.

21. Leaving Cecil Street by Diane McKinney-Whetstone. This novel takes place in Southwest Philadelphia in the late '60s. It's a vivid portrait of a neighborhood over the course of one summer and deals in large part with the consequences of a botched illegal abortion--not too different than the botched legal ones that until recently were taking place not far from that neighborhood. B+.

22. Who Is My Shelter? by Neta Jackson. Fourth in a series--read the others first. If you haven't, read the "Yada Yada" series before those. I enjoy this author's Christian women's fiction. B.

23. Long Time Coming by Vanessa Miller. Predictable, but a good read. This novel brings together 2 women of different backgrounds: a school principal in her midthirties who is dealing with infertility, and a young cancer patient who, at 23, has 3 children already. I thought this author was a little heavy-handed on the "Christian" part of the story, but it was enjoyable.

24. Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos. This book reads like poetry. A barista, heavy on the "romantic" in personality, falls in love with a shallow but extremely handsome man. Eventually she winds up caring for this man's daughter who has been surviving the roller-coaster life of a child whose mother is suffering a breakdown due to bipolar disorder. A-.

25. Getting In by Karen Stabiner. If you've got a child in high school or college you'll enjoy this look at the high-pressure world of college admissions, seen through the eyes of 5 Los Angeles families. A great read. B+.

26. I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson. A 40-something woman is transported back to her teen years when she finds an old letter announcing she has won a contest and will get to meet David Cassidy. And she claims the prize! B+.

27. Life from Scratch kindle edition by Melissa Ford. I got this as a Kindle freebie and it was funny and endearing. A young divorced woman who can't cook but has a kitchen full of expensive wedding gifts decides to start a blog and learn to cook. Great stuff. B+.

28. Hometown Ties by Melody Carlson. Second in a series about four women who met in Kindergarten, all named Linda. Now they've met again and are all getting a new start in life. B.

29. Love in a Time of Homeschooling by Laura Brodie. Interesting memoir about a year in the life of a mom and daughter who homeschool just for a year. B.

30. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. This book was fascinating and intense. Told from the point of view of Death, it follows a young German girl though the Holocaust years, including a time when her family hides a young Jewish man. A+!

31. Look Again by Lisa Scottoline. What would you do if you got one of those "Have you seen this child" postcards in the mail--and your adopted son's photo was on the card? Great suspense novel. A bit farfetched at the end, but it was a fun read. B+.

32. My Teenage Werewolf by Lauren Kessler. See larger review here.

33. The Glory of Green by Judy Christie. Fans of the "Green" novels by Christie will enjoy this next installment which begins with a wedding--and a tornado. B+.

34. Townie by Andre Dubus III. There's a lot of anger and bitterness in this book, which is a memoir of Dubus' growing-up years until his dad's death. Graphic language is rampant; this book is not for kids! B.

35. Divine by Karen Kingsbury. A bit over-the-top, but a good story about the spiritual transformation of women in a battered-women's shelter. B.

36. The Potluck Club by Linda Evans Shepherd & Eva Marie Everson. An enjoyable story about a group of women--not all of whom like to cook--who get together to pray a little and dish a lot. B.

37. Delivered with Love by Sherry Kyle. A Christian romance novel about a woman who wants to find the identity of the "mystery man" in her mom's past, and ends up finding her father and more.

38. The Little Known by Janice Daugharty. A 12-year-old boy finds a bag of stolen money from a bank robbery. He tries to help others by giving them money and discovers that throwing money at people's problems can't solve them. Excellent book. A.

39.  Crazy U:  One Dad's Crash Course in Getting his Kid into College by Andrew Ferguson.  I enjoyed this book because many of the same scenes happened around my house as we went through Big Brother's senior year with him.  Ferguson's book was a funny look--and good commentary--on the college-application process.  That said, I'm kind of glad I didn't read it BEFORE Big Brother's senior year or I'd have been more than a little disillusioned.  B+.

40.  The Book of Tomorrow by Cecilia Ahern.  What happens when your journal shows what you've written for TOMORROW?  Can you change the future?  Would you want to?  Don't miss this one.  A+.

41.  Courting Trouble by Lisa Scottoline.  Lawyer drama, set in Philly.  Enjoyable!  B.

42.  Another Dawn by Kathryn Cushman.  A novel that deals with the question of vaccination--from both sides of the coin.  Interesting.  B.

43.  Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin.  You're the maid of honor in your best friend's wedding--and you have an affair with the groom-to-be.  All the neatly-tied-up endings in the world don't make this completely better; this was a well-written book but I still was uncomfortable with the premise.  However, the characters were completely believable.  B.

44.  The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.  It's a big book and starts slow but is well worth it.  My one beef with this novel is the constant shift of narrator and setting.  It begins with a small child, alone on a ship from England to Australia.  Eventually she has the chance to begin to find out the story of her early life.  Her granddaughter finishes that mission.  A.

45.  Life's a Beach by Claire Cook.  A fun novel about an artist and her on-and-off boyfriend, her parents and her sister who seemingly has the perfect life.  A great summer book.  B+.

46.  Mistaken Identity by Lisa Scottoline.  Courtroom drama/mystery/thriller set in Philadelphia.  B.

47.  Running from the Law by Lisa Scottoline.  Courtroom drama/mystery/thriller set in Philadelphia.  B.

48.  Best-Staged Plans by Claire Cook.  A cute beach read about an empty-nester who wants to downsize her family home even as she grows her own real-estate-staging business.  B.

49.   Threading the Needle by Marie Bostwick.  Fourth in a series (read the others first!).  Several story lines dealing with a quilt shop in a small Connecticut town.  B.

50.  Viola in the Spotlight by Adriana Trigiani.  Teen book by an author whose work I enjoy.  This is the second in a series about a young teenage girl who's been away from her hometown and friends for a year and then returns.  B+.

51.  A Turn in the Road by Debbie Macomber.  This one is related to the Blossom Street series.  It didn't really pull me in, but I did see it through to the end and was glad it ended as it did.  C+.

52.  Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares.  Unless you are a total, complete and committed fan of the "Traveling Pants" series, don't even bother.  I was unimpressed.  C.

53.  I Totally Meant to Do That by Jane Borden.  This memoir has a fun premise:  a Southerner getting used to life in New York City.  And there's some funny stuff in there.  Unfortunately, not enough funny stuff to carry the book.  More of it winds up being the author's dithering about where she'd rather live:  NYC or North Carolina.  B.

54. All for One by Melody Carlson.  Third in the "Four Linda series" (make sure to read them in order), this is an enjoyable novel about four women in midlife who are all starting over in one way or another.  A great testament to the power of friendship.  B.

55.  Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy.  This novel began on a sad premise:  a young woman is pregnant and has cancer; she's kept alive long enough to give birth to a child she'll never even hold or see.  She contacts a man with whom she shared a one-night stand and tells him about the baby.  He turns his life around while he raises his child, and little Frankie touches the lives of the whole community as well.  Characters from other Binchy books are features, but you don't need to have read those to make sense of this story.  B+.

56.  Here, Home, Hope by Kaira Ruda.  What's with all the stories about home-staging businesses lately?  This one is about a mom who looks to reinvent her life before she turns 40.  Her new projects involve starting a home-staging business and taking in a friend's anorexic daughter, among others.  It's a sweet story and good first novel; I await more good books by this author.  B+.

57.  Save Me by Lisa Scottoline.  This is a good one!  A mom volunteering in the school lunchroom must make a choice when the cafeteria catches fire:  escort other children all the way outside, or go back for her own daughter who's trapped in the bathroom.  The consequences of her decision are far-reaching and not what you'd expect.  Don't miss it.  A.

58.  Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley.  Want to know what it's like to grow up with severe food allergies?  Want to know what a young woman with such allergies thinks about peanut-free classrooms? This was a really good book, written by someone who has "been there."  A.

59.  Seamus O'Flynn by Bill Tobin.  Detailed review here.

60.  In Name Only by Ellen Gable.  Detailed review here.

61.  A Cup of Friendship by Deborah Rodriguez.  This novel was good but not compelling.  It's the story of a cafe in Kabul, Afghanistan, and the people who work there.  There were tons of subplots, which were kind of distracting.  B.

62.  The Potluck Club Takes the Cake by Linda Evans Shepherd and Eva Marie Everson.  With this one, I've read all the "Potluck Club" novels, though not in order.  The authors do quite a good job of helping a reader new to the storyline, so it's not completely necessary to have read them in order.  These novels are fun, "clean," Christian novels about a group of friends who help each other through personal difficulties.  Enjoyable and light.  There are a few recipes at the end of the book that look really good, too!  B.

63.  Needles and Pearls by Gil McNeil.  Sequel to The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club, this novel about a single mom raising 2 little boys and running her own yarn shop is charming and funny.  Read the other book first!  B+.

64.  The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown.  Three adult daughters of a Shakespeare professor all return home after personal crises and during their mother's illness.  This book is written in first person PLURAL, which was really interesting and it worked so well for the story.  If you like literature, you'll love this.  A.