Tag Archives: Fiction

‘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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German Catholics in WWII play role in modern mystery

February 16, 2013

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“The German Suitcase”  (Premier Digital Publishing, 2012) is one more novel to feed my World War II addiction.
Greg Dinallo puts complex, likeable characters into an interesting plot with flashbacks to Nazi Germany to fill in the mystery.
Prescient readers may solve that mystery relatively quickly, but that doesn’t make “The German Suitcase” any less of a good read.

german suitcase coverThe fictional story includes a family of Catholics who assist Jews to escape the Holocaust. The fact that a contemporary author is writing anything positive about Catholics makes Dinallo’s bit of fiction unique today.

Of course, the page-turning story was going along swimminglywhen for some unknown reason there is a gratuitous reference to how the Vatican has handled the clergy sex abuse crisis. For the love of God I can’t understand why Dinallo included that in the novel; it doesn’t do one thing to advance the plot.

But here’s a theory: Major publishers think it helps sell books if there’s something in them to bash the church. Have you noticed, too? I’d love to hear from those who’ve found evidence in other novels that either prove or disprove my theory. — bz

 

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Angelic tale makes for good reading to children

November 16, 2010

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Angels are drawn to the bakery in St.Michael’s monastery because, “it’s the place that smells the most like heaven!”

Along the way they help bring confidence to a monk who isn’t too sure of his culinary skills and teach some lessons about faith and perseverance.

That’s as much as you probably need to know about “Brother Jerome and the Angels in the Bakery,” a cute story grandparents will find they read over and over.

Benedictine Father Dominic Garramone penned this little gem, and artist Richard Bernal provided the colorful illustrations for this Reedy Press work that kids will enjoy.

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Minnesotan Leif Enger has winner in 2nd novel, too

August 28, 2009

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“So Brave, Young and Handsome,”
by Leif Enger

Come along with two delightful characters, Monte Becket and Glendon Hale, on a journey that’s a classic American tale and a wonderful, satisfying read.

Becket is the author who hit it big with his first novel but can’t seem to come up with winning story idea No. 2.

Hale — is that his real name? — is an old man building a boat on the shores of Minnesota’s Cannon River, but he’s a bit mysterious about his past.

Together they go off in search of — just what is it this unlikely pair are looking for as they head west?

What they find is an adventure every step of the way, a surprise around the corner of every chapter.

Seemingly inching their way across the country during the time of train travel and the early days of the automobile, the duo encounter amazingly unique characters, and Enger’s way with words makes a reader feel as if they can picture each one and just have to know how these folk will impact the quest of Becket and Hale.

No sophomore jinx

Enger, who lives in Minnesota, resembles his author character Becket only that they both write. After hitting a literary grand slam with his debut novel “Peace Like a River,” this second novel — now out as a Grove Press paperback — is every bit as good.

Enger is a wordsmith, plain and simple. When one of the side characters departs from this life, Enger puts it this way:

“Death arrived easy as the train; Hood just climbed aboard, like the capable traveler he was.”

Never in your life would you think of the situations Enger places his protagonists, and just when you think you’ve figured out what’s going to happen next something totally unexpected either pushes our intrepid heroes further along the trail or postpones their journey for some ungodly reason.
With choices to be made at every intersection, “So Brave, Young and Handsome” s a novel filled with moral dilemmas.

What our travelers decide in each instance makes for fulfilling reading, and a hunger for more from Mr. Enger. — bz
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Keillor brings Lake Wobegon’s Fourth of July to hilarious life

March 20, 2009

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“Liberty,”

by Garrison Keillor

Before another Fourth of July comes around, give Garrison Keillor permission to tickle your funny bone.

“Liberty” will test your housemates’ willingness to allow you to laugh aloud for extended periods without calling for the men in the white jackets.

It’s the story of an Independence Day celebration — and the preparation for the big event — in Lake Wobegon, the fictional Minnesota hamlet Keillor has made famous on public radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion” show.

Those familiar with Keillor’s weekly monologue will recognize many of the characters.

The hero of this fun read is mechanic Clint Bunsen. He’s the architect of one of the most successful Fourth of July parades in the nation, but he’s bruised a few egos along the way, and some of the townsfolk are out to depose him.

Some don’t like, for example, that he’s thrown out the cavalcade of farmers driving their John Deeres down Main Street and replaced them with more exciting acts — the St. Cloud Shriners Precision Rider Mower Unit, for example — and they are out to get Clint even though he’s made Lake Wobegon’s Fourth so spectacular that CNN is sending a crew to cover it for the second straight year.

No good deed goes unpunished

In typical Lake Wobegon fashion the culture of the town won’t allow room for an individual to enjoy too much success, and no idea is ever allowed to be presented without its downside casting a dark shadow over any potential good outcome.

Keillor has the naysayers down pat.

In a lovely passage that describes those who accuse Bunsen of being a tyrant as he chairs the parade committee, Keillor’s familiarity with Scripture and his insight into human frailty burst off the page:

“If they had been at the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus brought forth the miracle of the loaves and fishes, they would’ve thought, ‘Did he wash his hands. Where are the napkins? How long was that fish cooked?'”

Sound familiar?

Fair warning: Keillor’s imaginative libido has his hero stumbling off the marital-fidelity track, and some readers may be offended by some of the frank and explicit language in this Viking book.

On the whole, though, “Liberty” offers a commentary on humanity that points society in the right direction by shining a spotlight on those times when we and our neighbors fail to be all that the creator gave us the potential to be.

And it’s hilarious. — bz

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Sequel to novel on building of cathedral depicts life two centuries later

January 23, 2009

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“World Without End,”
by Ken Follett

I loved “The Pillars of the Earth,” Ken Follett’s epic that delivered readers back to the 12th century to meet the people who built a great fictional English cathedral. It was a great story of achievement, of overcoming obstacles — human and stone — and of hope’s triumph.
“World Without End” picks up the story two centuries later, delivering us to that same cathedral, now in need of repairs after two hundred years of storms.

And the characters that populate the medieval cathedral town are just as interesting and compelling in the sequel as were their ancestors in the original story, which is why this was at the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

It’s a bawdy tale, I must warn you, and a gory one. Some sexual scenes are very, very explicit, and the violence is bloody, but not “chainsaw-massacre” stupid.

Remember, it’s fiction

Catholics who read “World Without End” will have to keep in mind the fictional nature of this book, because elements of the Church of Rome play the black hat roles in many cases. Bishops, priests and nuns do things in the novel that we would hope bishops, priests and nuns don’t do. I don’t think modern-day readers can deny that incidents described in Follett’s novel never happened in reality; some of the more contemporary sins by church people would be pretty good evidence that there is at least a possibility that 14th century clergy and religious were not immune from such sin.

For the most part, though, offenses of the moral kind are not held up to be celebrated; rather, the protagonists stand for what is good and right and moral despite displaying their humanity, sins and all.

It’s a huge novel — 1,014 pages in New American Library’s paperback version — and every bit a great read. — bz
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