Here is my column that appears in this weekend’s print edition of The Catholic Post. I’d love to hear your feedback and suggestions of other “real” books that matter.
My print Catholic Post column is constrained by space (unlike a blog!), which means I’m always hacking away at the many, many words I manage to write about the various books I review.
After reading the manga titles from Manga Hero and reviewing them in my June column, I knew I wanted to interview one of the authors. I had the great good fortune to e-interview with Gabrielle Gniewek, writer of the Manga Hero series: Judith: Captive to Conquerer and the special edition, Habemus Papem. This has been one of my personal favorite interviews in recent months because of her insights about writing, her newfound discernment of a religious vocation, and her love of joining East and West in our Catholic faith. Thanks, Gabrielle, for your candid answers!
Today I’m featuring Matt Pope, author of a slim but beautifully inspiring poetry-novel called Emily’s Verse. The book is a little hard to describe–it might sound strange, a novel in the form of poems–but Emily’s Verse is easy to read and quite moving, with a pro-life message that is well-done and powerful.
Here is my Catholic Post column for June. Enjoy, and be sure to share your favorite summer reads in the comments or on Facebook.
During my growing-up years, summer meant a week or two at the beach, so trust me that I take“beach reading” seriously. But that doesn’t mean books can’t be fun and nourishing to our Catholic faith. Here is my annual list of great finds, in fiction and non-fiction, for young and no-so-young, to enjoy this summer:
* Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth by Dion DiMucci is the spiritual autobiography of one of the first (and first one-named) rock’n’roll stars. It’s also a great read with surprising spiritual depth and gems scattered throughout Dion’s transformation from rocker addict to faithful Catholic apologist. Dion seems genuinely a seeker, honest about his shortcomings, and darn it, just very Italian (I feel confident about accusing him of this as I, too, am Italian, and I’m also married to one).
*Wow! Is my one-word review of Manga Hero, a Catholic publisher of well-crafted manga (Japanese style-comic books) stories on Catholic themes. I know I’ve got a winner when I can’t get the books back from our kids, who tore through the 3-volume Paul: Tarsus to Redemption and 2-volume Judith: Captive to Conquerer.
Manga Hero’s founder and publisher is Jonathan Lin, a young Catholic who takes seriously John Paul II’s call to evangelize in all ways, even manga. Lin plans to distribute 300,000 copies of a new release, Habemus Papem, at World Youth Day in Madrid later this summer. Go ahead, discover Manga Hero ahead of the WYD crowd.
Three novels with specifically Catholic themes:
*For years friends have recommended that I read Junia: The Fictional Life & Death of an Early Christian by Michael Edward Geisler, and I’m so glad I did. It’s a powerful, well-done story of a privileged Roman young woman, Junia, whose life is changed by her encounter with early Christians. Junia reminded me of the popular Louis de Wohl novels published last century, where de Wohl imagines fictional characters in the lives of saints like Catherine of Siena, Thomas Aquinas and others. Many of his novels are now republished by Ignatius Press; any of those would also make excellent summer reading.
*Awakening by Claudia Cangilla McAdam is a time travel novel from the Imagio Catholic Fiction series from Sophia Institute Press. I raced through this story of an American teen, Ronni, who finds herself in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ Passion. Ronni’s emotions and self-centeredness are so realistic, as is the ways she is changed—and not—by her encounter with Jesus.
*Secrets of Siena by Diane Ahern, is #4 in the series” Adventures with Sister Philomena, Special Agent to the Pope.” Yes, it’s just as silly as it sounds, and therefore, yes, this book is great for young readers. Two kids have adventures with a spy nun who solves improbable faith-related mysteries in Italy. Cute!
Three recent novels with more general interest, but also great for summer reading:
*For adults, The Forgotten Garden is Kate Morton’s first and best novel, a multigenerational tale spanning the 20th century with secrets, English country houses, Australian antique dealers, and early 20th century writers. What’s not to love? Even though the book jumps around in time each chapter, the book reads smoothly and as a whole. One of the best elements of The Forgotten Garden is the complicated love between grandmother and granddaughter, ultimately providing the answer to the book’s central mystery.
*If you haven’t discovered the Penderwick family yet, you’re in for a treat. Brand new and third is the series, The Penderwicks at Pointe Mouette, is Jeanne Birdsall’s delightful take on a family of four unique sisters. The entire family will love these wholesome adventures about the best –and worst—of siblings and growing up.
*The Emporere of Nihon-Ja is John Flanagan’s 10th and last installment in the enormously popular 10-book Ranger’s Apprentice series. Flanagan has championed all sorts of unpopular virtues in these adventurous stories, from honesty to servant leadership to courage and hard work. They are easy to love and hard to put down.
Today is the feast day of St. Augustine of Canterbury, who brought Christianity to the British Isles. And you are probably not surprised I have a book suggestion for this great feast. I’m actually putting lots of great fiction for summer reading into my next column, so consider this an early selection.
Augustine Came to Kent is a great young adult novel, by Barbara Willard, published by the terrific publisher Bethlehem Books. The book follows St. Augustine’s travel to England, and what happens to him there. The story is told through the lives of two local (fictional) children, Fritha and Rolf. It’s an exciting story with lots of historical detail.
Our family enjoyed this book greatly when we read it as a family read-aloud several years ago, but what truly brought this book to life and history to life, was a day trip to Canterbury last year when our family was in England. We saw several of the sites that would have been known to St. Augustine, and learned even more about this great saint.
Here is a view inside St. Martin’s Church. The walls actually pre-date the Christian church, having once been a Roman shrine, showing how early Christians used the sacred spaces of pagans, “Christianizing” them. The book Augustine Came to Kent has a moving scene of King Ethelbert’s baptism in this church.
Here is a modern statue of St. Bertha, Ethelbert’s queen, who was herself Christian (and a French transplant to England). She paved the way for St. Augustine to be welcomed to Kent and bring the Faith to this new land.
Here is a view of the ruins of St. Augustine’s Abbey.
Have you read Augustine Came to Kent? Do you have any book suggestions about St. Augustine, or just other good summer reading?
UPDATED: My husband asked if I had shared a photo of Canterbury Cathedral, and I knew exactly the one he meant. It was taken on his excellent camera by his excellent eye, as he takes most of the “great photos” in our family. There was a bit of a rainshower, and afterwards a rainbow:
I am preparing my annual summer reading column, and I need your help. I’ve got some great titles to highlight, including two from local authors, but I can always use more.
Any suggestions for great summer reading? I plan to feature books for children as well as adults. Share away!
I had what I thought was a little trouble getting the song to embed on the blog here, but I want get the word out about a local Newman Center Group, this one at Illinois State University in Normal, IL, that has a chance to go to World Youth Day to perform this original song. I’ve had a chance to listen to the song quite a few times as I try to figure out what I’m doing wrong, and it really is well done.
You can go to this link to vote for the group, and read more about the group, the song, and the contest in the excellent Catholic Post article here. In the meantime, be sure to vote for the song and spread the word!