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Guilt: Too heavy a burden? A must-read novel

August 26, 2014

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How much guilt can you live with?

Knowing you’ve done something illegal and even hurtful, can the fact that the wrongful act also has brought joy be enough to overwhelm that guilt? And for how long?

M. L. Stedman brings those question out from hiding in the superbly written drama “The Light Between Oceans,” a New York Times bestseller that will soon come to movie screens.

Stedman’s setting of a lighthouse off the southwest coast of Australia and the small town that is its closest port takes readers to virgin literary territory. That’s always attractive, of course, to discover new lands through the written word.

But it’s the story that Stedman weaves that will grab readers’ attention and hold it for 322 pages, and the question she leads us to ask: What would we do?

The light coverOn that lonely island with the lighthouse between the Indian Ocean and the Great Southern Ocean below Australia, 100 miles from the nearest land, a married couple suffers through three miscarriages, the last very recent.

Then a dinghy washes up. In it is the body of a man. Although he’s dead, in the boat a baby cries, wrapped in a woman’s shawl. So the test begins.

Should the lighthouse keeper report this unusual event, or can the child become the baby he and his wife seem to be unable to create? Will he risk his career or, by dutifully telling the authorities about the child and the dead man, risk earning the scorn of his wife, who already has seen the baby’s arrival as a miracle from God?

Despite his misgivings, they keep the baby, pretending the wife has given birth. But how long with the charade last? How long can a person stand knowing that another woman is heartbroken and nearly insane from the loss of her infant child?

“The Light Between Oceans” is a wonderful read, a piece with both droplets of foreshadowing and unexpected turns of events, a testament to hope and prayer, an in-depth delving into joys and sorrows, into human nature and families, into life itself.

 

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A period piece you’ll relish reading

August 20, 2014

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The Time In BetweenDo you savor good writing?

The slow-moving action of “The Time In Between” perfectly fits this lengthy, detail-filled novel. It lets you soak up the lovely writing and the exquisite translation from the original Spanish into beautiful English.

It lets you absorb the tenor of the times and the emotions of characters into whose lives you’ve been dropped for 600-plus pages.

Hemingway and others have written about the Spanish civil war, of course, but Maria Duenas decorates with ornamentation, flavor and the style of the period in contrast to the straightforward, unadorned sentences of Hemingway.

Fashionistas will appreciate the detail Duenas shares as she portrays the life of the seamstress turned spy in the chaotic 1930s as Spaniards moved from their own tragic war into observers of World War II all around them.

There’s drama, mystery, romance and unexpected turns of events — all the pieces that drive readers to keep turning pages. People even pray and go to church, something rare for modern literature.

Hats off to Daniel Hahn for bringing this 2009 novel to readers of the English language. Only once did I feel as though he’d missed the mark.

Just as I was admiring the beauty of the translation, he has an old Moroccan woman threatening the suitor of the main seamstress character sounding like a thug straight from the streets of south Philadelphia. Just had to laugh.

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Make the choice: Read ‘Little Bee’

August 20, 2014

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little bee coverAn old poster, printed graffiti style, claimed “Not to decide is to decide.”

The corollary is that all decisions have consequences. What we choose to do matters.

For the characters of Chris Cleave’s “Little Bee,” deciding as well as not deciding both have life and death implications.

“Little Bee” is a masterfully written novel told from the alternating first-person points of view of a young Nigerian girl — the Little Bee of the title — and the female British magazine executive intent of saving her.

While Cleave obviously is making a statement about England’s policies with regard to those who have come to its shores sans documentation and about the horrors of greed-based, development-driven brutality in Africa, he has so much more to say to make us think about the choices each of us makes.

Do we stay or flee? Do we opt for the present dangers or choose the possibility of dangers unknown?

Do we give in to intolerable demands or face possibly even worse consequences — for us and for others as well?

Do we offer a hand knowing that our doing so may incriminate us?

And what about the other side of the coin?

What will happen if we don’t act?

Will there be dire, even fatal consequences?

And, if we don’t risk putting ourselves in harms way, will we be able to live with ourselves?

No wonder “Little Bee” was a New York Times bestseller. It’s out now as a Simon & Schuster paperback.

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So much to be thankful for

August 19, 2014

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thank you god coverQuick, list all the things for which you’d like to thank God.

I’ll bet you haven’t come up with as many as are in the new children’s book, “Thank You, God.”

Author J. Bradley Wigger lists in 26 pages more things for which we ought to be grateful for than most parents are likely to come up with as they pray with their young ones.

And, with typical family scenes colorfully illustrating the prayer-like text with all kinds of details, “Thank You, God” will keep the interest of young people as well, thanks to the artistry of Jago.

Just published in August, this is an imprint of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

 

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Catholic grandparents: Pass on the baton of faith

August 12, 2014

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“Preserving Your Family: Parents and grandparents working together,” by Dick Bergeson. Self-published. 89 pp. $9.95.

bookimageFormer Minnesotan Dick Bergeson has published a little paperback of advice that he hopes will motivate parents and grandparents to get to work passing on the faith.

Bergeson, long-active in the Catholic charismatic movement and now a grandfather and great-grandfather, shares Scripture-based ideas intended to help reverse what he terms “the exodus from our faith” by younger generations.

He echoes the urging of St. Pope John Paul II for Christian communities to become “schools of prayer,” noting that extended families need to provide both teaching about the faith and the supportive culture that has virtually disappeared from today’s world.

While much of the advice is aimed both at parents and grandparents, Bergeson writes, “It is important for grandparents to be conscious of the extraordinry position they hold in their families.”

The older generations hold a critical role in the faith formation of the whole family not the least of which is because “they have gone through may crises in life and know how invaluable a deep faith in Jesus is,” he notes. “They have seen God act in their lives and in the problems they have faced.”

Praying for family members is primary, along with practicing and teaching a variety of prayer forms, continuing to learn about the faith one’s self, providing a sense of propriety amid shifting cultural trends and living a life of integrity.

Bergeson sees grandparental involvement as handing off the baton of faith to the next generation.

“Grandparents have always provided the spiritual backbone of the family,” he notes. “Grandparents have live through life and have experienced losses, failures, struggles, deaths and have been able to see how God has acted and been there through each one of these crises of life.

He adds, “If they don’t step in, another generation will be lost.”

Bergeson urges mothers, father and grandparents to be a blessing to children and grandchildren.

“This means we need to give them words of encouragement and loving direction,” he says. “We need to remind them of who they are as persons. . . . The most important thing we can do for our children is to make sure they know they are loved and appreciated in our families.”

The overriding goal for all should be to “lay the groundwork for our offspring to get to heaven,” he says. “This is the only thing that matters in life and should affect all of our actions.”

The book is available at http://www.preservingyourfamily.com.

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Father, son and values tested in superb WWI novel

June 8, 2014

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cartographerThe moral life takes center stage in P.S. Duffy’s “The Cartographer of No Man’s Land,” a World War I novel that centers around a family and village in Nova Scotia and the impact of the first “war to end all wars.”

To go to war or not, to fight or to give up, to love or go through the motions, to admire or be repulsed by, to change or carry on — the story lines come at the reader like the torrent of artillery shells pounding at the trenches one chapter and like the waves of the North Atlantic sweeping fishermen overboard the next.

Caught in the middle are a father and son, and the novel jumps back and forth between their thoughts and dreams, their expectations and the experiences life throws their way.

Along the way Duffy sneaks in the dirty bit of history of bigotry that put ethnic-German Canadian citizens in detainment camps along with prisoners of war and “suspicious” aliens.

Those familiar with the writing of ancient Greece will appreciate references to the classics scattered throughout. Phrases from Scripture pop up, too, as wartime puts long-accepted values to the test both in France and back on the home front.

World War I garners a small percentage of battle literature in comparison to WWII, it seems to me, and the stories of Canadian soldiers even a smaller spot on the shelves compared to books about U.S. and British forces.

“The Cartographer of No Man’s Land” puts a dent into those imbalances with a handful of captivating parallel plots, meaty characters, splashes of intense action and superb writing.

This Liveright Publishing Corporation release last fall is a marvelous example of the writer’s craft, and it offers great possibilities for a sequel. Introduced to these intriguing people, readers will surely want to know what happens next in their lives, and Duffy has set the stage well with plenty of ambiguity.

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Story of Jesus perfect for 4-to-8 year olds

May 12, 2014

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Jesus coverLittle children run to Jesus on the cover of this Eerdmans Book for Young Readers, a wonderful image to draw the target age group — 4-to-8 years — into the story of Jesus’ life.
Benedictine Anselm Grün’s retelling of Gospel events is true to Catholic teaching, from the visitation through the nativity and more than a half-dozen highlights of New Testament stories up through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The translation by Laura Watkinson keeps the language simple and age-appropriate, and Giuliano Ferri’s colorful artwork adds to the storytelling, bringing to life the calling of the disciples, for example, the stories of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, the Prodigal Son, and the Last Supper.
Parents and teachers will find “Jesus” an excellent choice reading to children in a home schooling setting or early faith formation.

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‘Brother Hugo and the Bear’: cute and informative

May 8, 2014

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brother hugo and the bearAuthor Katy Beebe has crafted a cute story from a sliver of what may or may not be a true anecdote from the 12th century. Did a bear really devour much of one monastery’s copy of St. Augustine’s letters to St. Jerome?

Beebe’s fictional Brother Hugo gets the task of replacing it, and a good chunk of the tale illustrates how manuscripts were created by the monks in those monasteries in the Middle Ages.

Illustrates is the perfect word, too, because artist S.D. Schindler’s superb use of the style of those medieval illuminators adds a whimsical period touch that puts the story into the proper historical timeframe.

This is not just a good tale for young readers but an educational one as well.

There’s church and human history embedded in the Eerdmans book, with salutes to those ancient monasteries, the Benedictine’s Cluny and the Cistercian’s La Grande Chartreuse, and even a glossary that includes both church and manuscript making vocabularies.

What a nice idea, and nicely done.

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Murder of John Paul I — from the inside?

April 25, 2014

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UnknownThe pages are yellowing in the this English-translation of “The Last Pope” that I couldn’t resist in an antique store, and the copy looked as though it had never been touched.

That should have been one tip that “The Last Pope” was no “The Shoes of the Fisherman,” but the glossy cover of the hardback claimed it was an international bestseller, so I sprang for the $7.

“The Last Pope” was probably worth the $7, but not a cent more. Its premise is that rather than dying in his sleep, as is the official word on the passing of the former Cardinal Albino Luciani, the man who was pope for only 33 days in 1978 was killed because he had made plans to remove high-ranking Vatican officials. Several cardinals from that era are implicated in ordering the pope’s death.

In the story, copies of John Paul I’s supposed plans have made their way out of the Vatican archives, and the bad guys are killing folks to get them back. A beautiful female reporter and a mysterious “Rafael” get involved, and, well, no spoilers here.

What the novel by Luis Miguel Rocha is, of course, is a vehicle to paint the Vatican Curia as corrupt and the church itself as behind-the-times on all kinds of contemporary issues. John Paul I was going to change all that, so the story goes, and the usual Catholic punching bags — birth control, homosexual relations, priestly celibacy, female priests — take their lumps.

That’s too bad, because “The Last Pope” isn’t a bad novel. But it does explain why the eight-year-old copy was sitting untouched in an antique store.

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Time for your Catholic parish to change?

February 12, 2014

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HolinessCultureDoes your parish have lackluster Sunday Masses where people mumble the responses, where only a third of the people sing and where almost everyone skips past the cup at Communion time?

Is the culture of your parish one that allows its members to come and go, live and die, without really being engaged in their faith?

If you’d like to get started helping to reinvigorate your parish so its members have the kind of encounter with Christ which leads to conversion, a richer community life and action that serves others — one that draws others to it because it is so attractive a lifestyle — then Bill Huebsch has a book for you.

“A Culture of Holiness for the Parish” (Acta Publications) is a mere 82 pages in the size of paperback that easily fits into a pocket or purse, but it’s filled with wisdom about the Catholic faith. Huebsch, who is director of pastoral planning, com and its online Vatican II Center, has grasped the meat of what the Second Vatican Council expects of Catholics, and his well-structured process to help Catholic parishes meet those expectations are presented in language others can grasp, too.

Pastors, parish ministers and core leaders of parish ministries and organizations show the way by sharing their own personal stories of seeing God active in their lives. As parishioners feel comfortable telling others about the holiness they feel and see, about the times they’ve been touched by an event or times they’ve felt God in their lives, “home lives are imbued with hospitality, forgiveness and love,” Huebsch writes, and “a new orientation of self-giving love seeps into parish life and reaches out in action to the wider community.”

Through “A Culture of Holiness for the Parish,” any parish can plan, launch and sustain a Catholic community which others will notice for the way its members love God and love their neighbor. Worth a try?

 

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