Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Living, Loving, Losing ... and Cooking

Comfort Food: a novel by Kate Jacobs
"I am actually a very nice person when someone takes the time to get to know me," huffed Aimee. "I just have a lot of responsibilities."

"The UN stuff," said Carmen.

"Among other things," said Aimee. "But that's how I know Spain produces 36 percent of the world's olive oil. I work in trade and development," she explained.

"Very good," said Carmen. "You may just be the smart one out of this bunch of idiotas."

"I speak Spanish too."

"¿Ahora si entiendas lo que digo?"

"Yeah, I hear what you mutter in the kitchen," said Aimee. "Like when you called my mother a--"

Carmen held up her hand to stop her from speaking.

"It's unexpected," admitted Aimee. "You swear like a sailor."

"Well, what do you expect," said Carmen. "I spent years in beauty pageant dressing rooms."
Aimee's mother is Gus [Augusta] Simpson who, after she was unexpectedly widowed years ago, turned her cooking into a career. First owning a restaurant and then with a long running cooking show. Gus is a problem solver who not only strives to have her life go perfectly but also engages in well-meaning meddling in her two daughters' lives. They are not appreciative as one might expect. Gus's world comes crashing down when her ratings take a disastrous dive. Deemed to "old school" and boring, she has Carmen thrust upon her as a co-host. Carmen is a former Miss Spain whose claim to cooking fame is a short YouTube cooking video. Not only that, but most of Gus's immediate family and friends, who are most emphatically noncooks, wind up on her new show which is done live. This is outside everyone's comfort zone and leads to all sorts of complications, most of which Gus cannot fix, naturally.

I am not a fan of chick-lit which is what this could be deemed, however, this book was captivating enough to make it very difficult to put down. Part of the charm is that it is told from many points of view. As the perspective changes, we also see that the myriad misunderstandings and misinterpretations that have been foisted upon us by the previous narrator's insecurities or flawed vision. No one in this book is a villain or truly malicious but there are enough actions prompted by these misconceptions of everyone's motivations that the plot is soon taking gentle twists and turns which intrigue us.

I defy anyone not to take a delicious enjoyment of the "team building" weekend to which the ranking network executive subjects everyone. It is hilarious while simultaneously breaking everyone out of their regular routines enough to move along their development as people. Add to that the liberal sprinkling of cooking throughout and one has truly enjoyable light summer reading will be perfect for vacation. In fact, I have already lent my copy to a friend for that very purpose. (I must add that a special relief to me was that the author kept the occasional sexual liaisons to a minimum, appropriate to the characters' motivations, and mercifully without detailed descriptions.)

I enjoyed this so much that I will be looking into Ms. Jacob's previous book, The Friday Night Knitting Club.

An interview about Prince Caspian, opening May 18

Interview with Randy Testa about Prince Caspian
Walden Media is unique among film production companies. We work with parents, teachers, museums, and national organizations to develop supplemental educational programs and materials associated with our films and the original events and/or novels that inspire the films.Ripples had the opportunity to interview Dr. Randy Testa, Vice President of Education for Walden Media, about the upcoming release of C.S. Lewis's Prince Caspian (May 16, 2008).Testa has lectured widely on the book, most recently at Calvin College's Festival of Faith & Writing, where he addressed a standing-room-only audience. He also is responsible for the classroom resource materials that are available at walden.com.

What is a central theme of Prince Caspian?

This book is about fall and redemption -- the redemption of Narnia after the fall. A terrible thing has happened in Narnia. We don't know what it is, but we find out as the story unfolds.This story speaks to the importance of people knowing where they have been in order to know where they are going. The past is lived out in the present. My Amish friends say, "A people without a past has no future." So the issue of what has come before and who is allowed to know what has happened are really, really, really important issues in Prince Caspian.

What do you mean by "who is allowed to know"?

When Miraz, the King of Narnia, finds out that Caspain's nurse has been telling him stories about Old Narnia and its inhabitants, Miraz tells Caspian that it's "utter nonsense" and the nurse is banished. Later Dr. Cornelius, Prince Caspian's tutor, gets into really hot water because he has been telling Caspian about Old Narnia. It is a big "No, No." Again, the question of what is permissible to know and what can be known without recrimination is a wonderful topic to discuss with kids.What we are taught in our classrooms is not always the whole story, is it?Education can either open new worlds or close us off to them.As John Dewey said, "Education is not preparation for life, it is life itself."

This movie is rated PG. What guidance can you give parents about who should see the film?

One needs to use parental common sense. It is very important for children to know the story before seeing it as a film. When they are watching it in a darkened theater, it is easy for a parent or teacher to lean in and say "You know we read this story and we know it has a happy ending."What resources are available to help the homeschool parent or classroom teacher?If you go to walden.com/walden/walden/guide_matrix.php/#caspian, you will find resources for connecting the book and film. We like to say, "Read it before you see it."Walden Media is in the business of taking classic books and turning them into great films.What is the link between these two mediums?We always begin with the written word. "In the beginning was the Word." It's one thing to read a story and quite another to see it. I spend a lot of time on the road telling audiences that movies, like books, are a text. We move from a written text to a visual text. There is a translation process that occurs. I'd like to think our educational materials help teachers and students make this translation.There can be a literal adaptation of a book to the screen or a faithful one. The two may or may not be related. We like to quote children's author Lois Lowry who says, "A faithful film adaptation is one that is true to the spirit of the book." With these Narnia books in particular, the words "true" and "spirit" are very important to us.
Watch the film trailer here.

What is the personal lesson you have taken away from reading Prince Caspian?

I find the friendship between Dr. Cornelius and the young Caspian to be almost at the heart of the story. I say this as a teacher. The story really asks us as teachers to think about the knowledge that we impart to our students versus the wisdom we impart. For we know well that those are not necessarily the same things. This is the most intriguing and moving aspect of the story for me.About Walden MediaLLCWalden Media specializes in entertainment that sparks imagination and engages young people in the learning process. Producing both original works and adaptations of acclaimed children's literature, Walden Media projects are enhanced by comprehensive outreach and supplemental programs for teachers, librarians, and parents.

Walden Media produced (in association with Walt Disney Pictures) the Academy Award winning film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Upcoming Walden Media releases include the second film in the Narnia series, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (with Walt Disney Pictures), Journey 3D (with New Line Cinema), and The City of Ember (with Twentieth Century Fox).Walden Media is a division of Anschutz Film Group (AFG).

Prayer Request: Terry Pratchett

I came late to Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, although I certainly was familiar with Mr. Pratchett's name and some of his other works. So I was shocked to read in the online version of the Guardian Book Review that Mr. Pratchett is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's. He has since donated $1 million to Alzheimer's research in the U.K. and has also spoken out about the fact he must pay for his own medication because, according to the National Health Service, he is "too young" to qualify.

Mr. Pratchett is also outraged at the lack of funding for Alzheimer's research--hence his donation.

He's still writing books, although he's noticed that his ability to touch type has disappeared.

There's little we as fans can do except pray. And continue to enjoy Mr. Pratchett's prolific writings. He plans to keep writing as long as he is able. God willing, that will be for several more years!

crossposted at The Mad Tea Party

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Pope Podcast

Fairly new and I discovered it this weekend. Scott Bosse is a Catholic convert who has chosen to give back to his Church with this podcast. Truly this is a labor of love as it will take him ten years to finish if he sticks to his goal of covering a Pope every other week.

This podcast will look at the history of the Papacy as well as examining the inner workings of the Church itself, ranging from the creation of the Papacy to the selection of each new Pope. So far I have enjoyed the first episodes thoroughly, including the theme music selection. I had no idea Gregorian music could be uptempo!

Begin with episode II if you want to hear Scott talk about himself and the overall goals and resources for the podcast. His website is here with transcripts. His iTunes link is here.

Juno: The "Indie" Movie for People Who Never Watch Indie Movies

We saw Juno this weekend. It was ok.

Like Little Miss Sunshine (which I enjoyed more than I did Juno) it was a "mainstream" indie-style movie that I imagine seemed unique and fresh to people who don't venture beyond regular Hollywood movies.

The acting was great. The directing was great.

It was the screenplay I objected to ... that Oscar winning screenplay. As Tom pointed out, there were no real conflicts. Everything was solved too easily. Juno spent more time being flip and glib than anything and I found it profoundly annoying until the last third of the movie, when we were finally allowed some sort of insight into various characters.

Yes, it was pro-life. Go team. However, the baby essentially acts as a catalyst to get everyone to examine their relationships.

If you want a better movie, a real indie movie that makes points about people and relationships in a much more real way (albeit without any impending baby), rent Eagle vs. Shark.

Movie Review: No Country for Old Men (2007)

***Cross-posted on Good News Film Reviews***

Should I see it?

Yes (with cautions)

Short Review: Great until the final act and then it gets very muddled. It’s like getting great, scenic directions to grandma’s house but once you get there, instead of seeing Grandma’s house, you’re left parked in front of a closed down petting zoo that is being used to hold practices for the local bomb squad. Sure it’s interesting but didn’t someone promise we’re going to grandma’s?

The Coen Brothers' intricate film is beautifully shot, and eloquently written film but it is also marred by their tendency towards self indulgence. They are simply the worst at ending their movies. Their final acts almost always descend into strange musings that are incompatible with the rest of the story. I contend the reason they tend to flounder is because they’re not actually telling stories, they’re describing people. They get so involved in their characters
that they forget to propel their narrative into a resolvable direction. In the case of this film, they frankly abandon telling the story and wander off to investigate the ethical issues that curse their characters. It's a little like seeing someone works on a complicated mathematical problem on a chalkboard, only to have them wipe the slate clean before giving you the sum and then begin working on a related problem. If you’re into closure or traditional endings, this film will leave you wanting.

Even with its stuttering resolution, this is a remarkable piece of cinema. It is clearly deserving of all of the awards and praised it has received. Every aspect of the film is m
asterfully handled and shows a dedication to intricate filmmaking that is a pleasure to witness. The story revolves around three men. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a gruff welder, stumbles across the results of a drug deal gone bad in the desert. From this he discovers and keeps a case containing two million dollars. He takes it home to his simple wife Carla (Kelly MacDonald). It isn’t long before the menacing killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, in an Oscar winning performance) arrives in the area, looking to get the lost loot. Chigurh, with a devil’s smile and a patient, yet frightening, tone tracks down Moss across Texas. He gives the feeling of being supernatural, a symbol more than a man, more on that in a bit. As Chigurh pursues Moss, the killer…well, kills. He leaves a trail of dead hotel clerks, criminals and random people on the road. On this trail, old, crusty sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) struggles to make sense out of the nonsensical deaths caused by Chigurh’s efforts. This may not seem like a foundation for a great film. In many cases, the story itself is rather pedestrian. Where this movie strikes its cord is in character and in the choices made by the Coens.

This is one of the best character pieces made in recent memory. It is a rare thing to be presented with characters so intensely interesting that there’s a sense of loss when long scenes of dialog end. I wanted to see more about these people, learn more about them. This careful character construction makes the confrontations more tense since the audience is involved on both ends of the fight. When Moss and Chigurh finally meet and fight, I found mys
elf hoping for a draw so the film could continue. I can’t think of the last time this has happened.

This is a fantastic movie that I cannot recommend it highly enough. You have two master filmmakers at the height of their skills working with a cast that meets the high expectations of a brilliant script. What more could you ask for?

Click below to view the trailer
Cautions: This is an incredibly violent movie. It is a study of evil and that evil is expressed in blood. This sanguine film doesn’t push the gore to an unreasonable level and the violence, while quite rough, is handled with respect. It’s not there for the sake of showing something exciting; it goes to build the story. In other words, it’s excusable. This said, it is important for those who are sensitive to seeing violent images to be forewarned that this film is loaded with brutal killings.

Worldview: The film is a search for structure (read God) in this seemingly random world. Two of the main characters, Ed Tom Bell and Anton Chigurh struggle with meaning in different ways. Sheriff Ed Tom Bell tries to think his way to an explanation. He sees the results of men’s dark hearts and the disconnected path of violence. Confronted with this, Bell attempts to keep order and attempts to reason. He fails and ultimately gives up the cause by saying “I always figured when I got older, God would sorta come into my life somehow. And he didn't. I don't blame him. If I was him I would have the same opinion of me that he does.

Anton Chigurh himself is a remorseless killing machine. In a sense he is much like The Terminator since once he begins on a path to kill someone he does not stop until the task is done. At one point however, a fellow killer says of Chigurh when Moss says he will make a deal with the killer “You don't understand. You can't make a deal with him. Even if you gave him the money he'd still kill you. He's a peculiar man. You could even say that he has principles. Principles that transcend money or drugs or anything like that. He's not like you. He's not even like me.” Chicurh, acts as a grim reaper, slowly but surely coming to claim each soul. He is lost, however, in a meaningless world of death. Casually peddles death seems to be a way for him to define certainty in a strange way. In the film’s best scene, Chicurh confronts a dim-eyed shop owner and has the man call a flipped coin. If the man wins, he lives, if he loses, Chigurh will kill him. Chigurh states about the 1958 coin “It's been traveling twenty-two years to get here. And now it's here. And it's either heads or tails. And you have to say. Call it.” The coin, fate (God) decides the outcome to this man’s life, not Chigurh. He never makes the jump that it is his choice whether to kill or not. He doesn’t recognize that it is not fate but rather his choice to flip the coin in the first place which defines him. God may put him in the situation, but his reaction to it is the key. At the end of the film, and if you haven’t seen the film please stop here because I’m going to give away important parts of the plot, Moss’ wife Carla confronts Chigurh face to face. Chigurh, in a moment of mercy, allows her the flip of a coin to decide her fate.

Carla Jean Moss: You don't have to do this.
Anton Chigurh: [smiles] People always say the same thing.
Carla Jean Moss: What do they say?
Anton Chigurh: They say, "You don't have to do this."
Carla Jean Moss: You don't.
Anton Chigurh: Okay.
Chigurh flips a coin and covers it with his hand]
Anton Chigurh: This is the best I can do. Call it.
Carla Jean Moss: I knowed you was crazy when I saw you sitting there. I knowed exactly what was in store for me.
Anton Chigurh: Call it.
Carla Jean Moss: No. I ain't gonna call it.
Anton Chigurh: Call it.
Carla Jean Moss: The coin don't have no say. It's just you.
Anton Chigurh: Well, I got here the same way the coin did.

Carla demands Chigurh acknowledge his freewill, his culpability in her murder, in all of his murders. He can’t make the leap, if he comes to admit his actions are of his own making, he is then guilty, an active player in this world and not some random device. Earlier in the film he refers to himself as a “perfect tool for the job”, the job being to kill another person. Chigurh finds his heels stuck in the swamp of a completely fate based world. If man is directed completely by fate then he is nothing more than a tool, a mere function. With freewill, choice, man ignites the sometimes terrible consequence of randomness on the world but he can also be judged for the decisions he makes.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Miley Cyrus on Semi-Topless Pic: 'I Feel So Embarrassed'!

cross-post from A Catholic View

When I first saw this, I thought alot of people would be disappointed because Miley Cyrus had presented herself as a Christian. That got me thinking....why should that make a difference? Don't get me wrong...I think posing nude or semi-nude is wrong no matter who it is. It is immoral, and I think it only cheapens the person posing, and provides a moral obstacle to all who see the picture. But back to my question: are we judging Miley more harshly because she is a Christian? Do we set higher standards for Christians? Do we expect more from them? Are we less tolerant of their shortcomings? After thinking about it, this is what I came up with: First of all, we shouldn't be judging anyone: Jesus told us this several times:

"Judge not, and you will not be judged"

"Don't worry about the speck in your neighbor's eye...worry about the plank in your own."

"Let the one who is without sin throw the first stone."

Secondly, Although people can tend to be judgemental, It is Miley who "set the bar" for herself. When you present yourself as a Christian, people expect more from you. When someone is a Christian and decides to follow Christ, they should also follow his commandments. I think this would be covered under

"thou shall not commit adultery."

Here's how Jesus explained it in Matthew 5:28

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Thirdly, it is not judgemental when you are discriminating in avoiding anything/anyone that could present a temptation or lead to sin, if only sinful thoughts.

In short, I think I will follow a little advice my mother gave me: "avoid people, places or things that could lead to sin."

Your comments welcome!

article here

The Last Secret of Fatima

The Last Secret of Fatima is a new book by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State that is mainly a discussion of his three visits with Carmelite nun and seer Sister LĂșcia of Jesus and of the Immaculate Heart. This book will be coming out on May 6th.

Not many books get an introduction written by Pope Benedict XVI, but this one does. The Last Secret of Fatima delves into the story of Fatima, the three secrets, and the various controversies that surround them - especially the third secret. Though Fatima is not the only focus of this book. The book is actually an interview by an American Adrian Walker a theologian living in Europe and who was also the translator for the English version of Pope Benedict's XVI. In some ways this book is similar to the book length interviews by Peter Seeward of then-Cardinal Ratzinger, except much more focused on one topic.

This book mainly expects the reader to already be familiar with the overall details of Fatima and the visit of Mary to the three peasant children Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta. While there is some discussion of the history of Fatima the book concentrates on events since then. Cardinal Bertone entered the picture while working at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was sent by Pope John Paul II to speak to Sister Lucia. This was prior to the beatifications of Blessed Francisco Marto and Blessed Jacinta Marto and the subsequent release of the third secret of Fatima. Pope John Paul II who was shot on the anniversary of Fatima always held that it was Our Lady who guided the bullet and prevented his death. This conviction lead him to place a part of the bullet in the crown of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal.

Ever since people first learned that there was third secret of Fatima there has of course been plenty of speculation as to what it contained and many of these speculations were rather apocalyptic. There was also speculation that there also might have been a forth secret being held at the Vatican. For this and other reasons Cardinal Bertone spoke with Sister Lucia to verify the document they held was the same one that she wrote and that it was indeed complete. She verified this along with other matters concerning the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It is rather sad that so much attention has been paid to less consequential details when the message of Our Lady of Fatima which highlights the Gospel and gives a call to repentance is ignored.

While the fact that Sister Lucia confirmed the third secret along the the consecration of Russia being accepted by Mary has been released in the past, what I found most intriguing about the book was the personage of Cardinal Bertone himself along with his impression of Sister Lucia herself. The humility of Sister Lucia comes across in the pages of the book along with something of her personality. While she wrote four books on her life in connection with Fatima and corresponded in countless letters throughout her life you don't get to see an outsider's viewpoint. Cardinal Bertone was certainly impressed by her and said he would testify to her heroic sanctity if called on to do so. He also thought it was evident that Sister Lucia had continued to have visions of Mary over the years, but this was something that she would not verify or talk about with him.

The interviewer asked good questions that covered a range of topics concerning Fatima and Cardinal Bertone was always up to the task of providing a in depth answer along with his own insights. Along the way their were excellent discussion on apparitions, devotions, and how they fit in within Church teaching and the difference between public and private revelation. Many behind the scenes details are supplied about the beatification of Francisco and Jacinta and the decision that it was time to release the third secret of Fatima. Besides Pope John Paul II then-Cardinal Ratzinger also is prominent in this book, especially since he was the one who wrote the theological commentary that accompanied the third secret and is an appendix at the end of the book. The later chapters start to range away from Fatima and become more of a straight interview with the Cardinal. This though is a good thing and I really came to appreciate this Salesian Cardinal both for his intellect and his good humor. Especially since even as Secretary of State he does not have the diplomats ways of talking and was quite frank in answering various questions throughout the book.

I doubt thought the the information given in this book will do much to convince those who think that the Vatican is hiding another secret, altered the one that was released, or think that the consecration of Russia has not yet been done. Though for the rest of us that are not so conspiracy minded I can certainly recommend this book even for those who are not interested in the various controversies surrounding Fatima.

Book Review: Seven Archangels: Annihilation

The story begins with Remiel, one of the Seven Archangels that stand before God, dancing in a studio. She's checking out one of the latest musical trends to see if it is, in fact, music. Saraquael, another of the Seven, comes to find out what she is doing. Instead, Remiel starts a game of Tag that eventually encompasses several angels and the entire Universe. She even coaxes Gabriel out of his library and into the game.

Unfortunately, that leads Gabriel into a trap set by Satan and his minions: Mephistopheles, Beezelbub, Asmodeus, and Belior. And one more fallen angel: Camael, Remiel's twin brother. Memphistopheles, a Cherubim like Gabriel, has discovered how to kill an angel and Gabriel is their first victim. By destroying Gabriel, they hope to cripple Raphael, a Seraphim who is joined to Gabriel, and to exploit what they see as a weakness in God's design, thereby proving Satan as God's equal.

Camael is captured by Michael and Remiel assumes her brother's aspects in hopes of thwarting Satan's plans. This, however, causes problems for Remiel, who must continually deny who she is in order to remain undetected as Camael.

And, in fact, Hell's plans don't succeed, at least not completely. Gabriel is not killed but he is mortally wounded. And God, because of His gift of Free Will, will not interfere. The angels must discover how to repair Gabriel's soul and repair Remiel's psyche.

Initially, I was caught off-guard by the modern aspects of Heaven. Mary in blue jeans and a pony tail? Baking cookies? Angels in hiking boots and turtlenecks? Rock-climbing? Playing tag? I've always thought of angels as near-perfect beings, so it was odd to read about personality quirks and clashes.

But, as the author, Jane Lebak, explains, each angel is a "facet" of God. So it makes sense that each angel would be unique and individual. And if they didn't have personalities, the story would be very dull indeed! And that brings out some interesting discussions about Free Will and choice, repentance and redemption, how hate perverts God's order and design, and finding the inner strength to do what God's will. Not bad for a book under 300 pages!

Once I got into the milieu, I was truly absorbed into the story. (Okay, when Jesus says to Mary "Thanks, Mom," for a cookie, I laughed.) Towards the end, I was even feeling sorry for Mephistopheles. And, since there are seven archangels, I'm hoping there are six more books.

One critique: I wished Ms. Lebak had included an organizational chart at the beginning of the book. Several of the angels have similar names and I would forget which choir they belonged to. And a brief description of each choirs quirks would also have been helpful, especially at the beginning. (Cherubim are the "absent-minded professors", Seraphim are healers (and quick-tempered), Thrones stand in front of God, singing His praises--that sort of thing.)

On the March Hare scale: 4 out 5 Golden Bookmarks

crossposted at The Mad Tea Party

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Few Good Books

Just in case your children are subjected to a Scholastic book fair, there are some good choices out there. Rick Yancey's Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp, C. S. Lewis's Prince Caspian, and Rick Riordan's The Titan's Curse were some that I recently spotted on the list.
Here's my take on few newly published winners...

Hattie Big Sky, by Kirby Larson, is the story of a sixteen year old orphan girl. Just when she is about to be forced to drop out of high school to work as a maid in an Iowa boarding house, Hattie receives a cryptic letter asking her if she will accept her now deceased uncle's homestead claim in Montana. Upon arrival in Vida, Montana, she discovers that she must now lay several miles of fence line, and cultivate 40 acres of crops before the land is hers. Hattie's struggles with forces of nature are interwoven with the anti-German sentiment her neighbors are facing as a result of the on-going first World War. Hattie is a wonderful, resourceful, and intrepid heroine. This novel is a Caudill Award nominee and a Newbery Honor Book. Highly Recommended.

Penny from Heaven, by Jennifer L. Holm, takes place in New Jersey, shortly after the second World War. Penny lives with her widowed, Protestant mother and grandparents, and spends most of her free time with the Italian, Catholic side of her family. The story follows Penny throughout the summer of 1953, during which her mother starts dating the milkman, her arm is nearly severed in a wringer washer accident, and she learns of the Italian American internment camp where her father died. This humorous, summertime story is also a Caudill Award nominee and a Newbery Honor Book. Highly Recommended.

Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters, by Lesley M. M. Blume, takes place in modern day Manhattan. Cornelia is the daughter of two brilliant pianists, Lucy Englehart, and her father, whom she has never met. Her mother is frequently absent for long periods of time, touring the world with her music. Lonely Cornelia locks herself away in a world of books, baffling grown ups with her immense vocabulary. When the famous author, Virginia Somerset, moves into the apartment next door, Cornelia finds a friend who speaks her language. Virginia shares the adventures she had in the 1950s when she traveled the world with her three equally vivacious sisters. These tales carry Cornelia from Morocco, to Paris, where the sisters encountered Pablo Picasso, to England, where Her Majesty has them thrown out of the Crufts Dog Show, to India, where they encounter true poverty and charity. Cornelia learns from Virginia how to turn vocabulary words into magical tales to be shared with friends and family.
Please note that Cornelia's father is described as a playboy, and she overhears her mother referring to his most recent in a string of marriages. However, these attributes are appropriately portrayed as unfortunate events in Cornelia's and her mother's lives. Highly Recommended.

A Review of the 2008 Catholic Almanac

How many priests are there in Libya?


Thomas J. Olmsted's birthday?
Jan. 21, 1947.
(Who the heck is he? The bishop of Phoenix.)

What does the word "apologetics" really mean?
The science and art of developing and presenting the case for the reasonableness of the Christian faith, by a wide variety of means including facts of experience, history, science, philosophy. The constant objective of apologetics, as well as of the total process of pre-evangelization, is preparation for response to God in faith; its ways and mean,s however, are subject to change in accordance with the various needs of people and different sets of circumstances.

Which decisions by the Supreme Court have had an effect on religion in the United States?

The answer to that one is too lengthy to report here but if you, too, had your copy of the 2008 Catholic Almanac from Our Sunday Visitor then it would be a snap to answer. It makes deeply interesting reading as well.

I have to admit that when I pulled this out of a box of books that Our Sunday Visitor sent me, I had to laugh. The idea of a Catholic almanac seemed ludicrous. However, leafing through it soon shut my mouth. Intending to spend a few minutes looking it over, I looked up to find I had spent more than an hour going through from beginning to end, marveling at the wealth of information at my fingertips. I recognized the simple truth of the review printed on the back cover:
Our Sunday Visitor claims this work is the one and only Catholic resource, and simply the best annual guide to the Catholic Church anywhere. These are bold statements, but accurate--- This excellent work is especially useful for those interested in either the Roman Catholic Church or the Holy See--- It is informative, easy to use, and well written. --American Reference Books Manual
Probably of the most interest to those who have previous years' editions will be the first section which covers news and events from the past year including papal trips, papal documents and announcements, and special reports from international and national news. However, for the rest of us who might need an overall resource other sections contain not only the statistics one might expect but key information about the teachings and doctrine of the Church, summaries of Church history, details about saints canonized during the previous year, a chronology of U.S. Catholic history, descriptions of Eastern churches (both Catholic and Orthodox) and much more.

Truly this is one place that you don't need an internet connection to have the basics about the Catholic Church ready to hand at a moment's notice. Highly recommended.

Cross--posted at Happy Catholic.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Expelled Movie Exposes Planned Parenthood's Pro-Abortion M.O.

A good review by Maria Vitale. The more the truth comes to light, the more the pro-aborts hate it :)

A surprising character makes a cameo appearance in Ben Stein's new movie, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed."

It's Margaret Sanger, the matriarch of Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion operation. Stein notes that Sanger was a proponent of eugenics, the pseudo-science which involves trying to create a master race of human beings through breeding. Isn't that what Hitler tried to do?

The implication in the film is that Darwinism leads to eugenics which leads to abortion and euthanasia.

The public relations machine at Planned Parenthood must not be happy about what's happening at the local Cineplex.

In essence, "Expelled" blows Sanger's cover as a benevolent birth control promoter. Instead, she is portrayed as one of the founding mothers of an ideology that treats human beings as animals and readily dismisses the sanctity of human life.

But what Ben Stein reveals on the Sanger front is really nothing new.

In her book, Margaret Sanger's Eugenic Legacy, author Angela Franks debunked the myth that Sanger was a minor player in the eugenics controversy.

story here

cross-posted on A Catholic View

Sunday, April 20, 2008

88 Minutes - R

Dr. Jack Gramm (Al Pacino) testifies against a serial rapist/killer and the man is convicted. Nine Years later,the man is about to be executed and Gramm receives a mysterious call telling him he has 88 minutes to live. He gets calls regularlly, telling him how much time he has left. The thing I really liked about this movie is that is they do an excellent job of making everyone around him look guilty. (I will give myself kudos for figuring out the guilty one :). I really enjoyed this movie primarily because of the plot. Gramm is an FBI Psychiatrist, but he is more like a detective trying to figure out who is behind these calls.

A couple of content warnings: a couple of graphic death scenes where the victim is hanging upside down and bleeding. One of the characters is gay, and there is a brief scene of a few seconds where 2 women kiss. One scene where a girl is brushing her teeth nude (shot from a side angle, so you don't see anything). I though it was an excellent movie.

cross-posted on A Catholic View

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Danny Gospel

Danny Gospel is the first novel of David Athey who has been primarily previously published in literary journals. This is not an easy book to describe, the enjoyment is in reading it. The novels main character Danny Gospel is from a farm family that goes out and sings old time Gospel songs and spirituals around the midwest and thus the family became known as the Gospels. This provides a background to the character, but the novel is not some overly pious representation of some idealized Gospel singers. Instead what came to mind the most to me when reading this novel was the novels of Flannery O'Connor, that is if Flannery O'Connor lived in the midwest instead of the south. Danny Gospel wants to write a spiritual, but does not feel that he has suffered enough even as the book unfolds with his life and memories of the past and the severe difficulties he has gone thought. These disasters all come to a point and the book takes off from there as you learn the back story and how he deals with it.

I must admit that I was quickly hooked to the writing of the book and this novel had me reading well into the night even later than is normal for me. The character of Danny Gospel is so intriguing and there is so much lighthearted humor in the book in the face of the situations he faced. There are also plenty of Catholic elements in the novel where the father is Catholic and the mother and grandmother our devout Protestants and Danny Gospel himself is influenced in a Catholic direction. I just found so much to like about this novel in the way that it was written and the story told. I wish I had the writing talent to write the review this book deserves, this is a seriously good novel as Dale Alquist and others would attest to.

Disclaimer: David Athey is a reader of my blog and sent me a copy of his book.

Movie Review: Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

If you're looking for a little magic in your life, stop by Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. It's a charming little shop, cozily sandwiched between two skyscrapers in what appears to be New York City. Mr. Magorium may no longer be there, but Mahoney is, along with Bellini, the Mutant, and Eric.

There is always something to do: read, build, experiment, play dodge ball with the world's largest ball. Children run riot and parents seem especially relaxed.

Eric (Zach Mills), who is nine-years-old and whose only friend is Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman), narrates the story. Molly--who is always referred to as "Mahoney"--is the manager of Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium and a former child prodigy at the piano. She is trying to write her own piano concerto, but is stuck. Mr. Magorium (Dustin Hoffman) is 243 years old and an avid wearer of shoes. He hires an accountant, Henry Weston (Jason Bateman), to figure out how much the store is worth because it's time for Mr. Magorium to leave. He fell in love with a pair of shoes in Tuscany, bought enough to last him his whole life, and now he's worn out his last pair. So, it's time to go.

It makes perfect sense, you see.

Mr. Magorium takes Henry, who is called "Mutant" by a convoluted chain of reasoning, into the office where there is a hodgepodge of boxes and ledgers dating back hundreds of years. Henry's not sure what to make of it all, especially since Mr. Magorium hasn't filed a tax return or for a business license ever. But Henry knows how to work (whether he knows how to play is in question) and he gets right too it.

Henry can't figure out how Mahoney seems to just go with the flow of it.

Mr. Magorium eventually tells Mahoney he's leaving and that the store will be hers. She protests: he's healthy, he's magic, she's not, the world won't be the same without him. In reply Mr. Magorium gives her a block of wood. Mahoney isn't sure what to do with it, but Mr. Magorium tells her she'll know.

Will Mahoney ever finish her piano concerto? Will she find her sparkle? Will Eric ever make a friend? Will Henry learn to play? Will Bellini finish Mr. Magorium's story and start a new one?

Did Mr. Magorium really give Thomas Edison the idea for the light bulb?

In addition to having storylines about believing in yourself, reaching out to others, and learning to play, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium pays homage to several classic movies. Dustin Hoffman seems to be channeling Ed Wynn's "Uncle Albert" from Mary Poppins. Mahoney has to look in the "Big Book" in order to find a fire truck with "hoses that really squirt water" (the original Miracle on 34th Street). An early scene reminds me of the bookstore in You've Got Mail. There is a bit of the original Willie Wonka in this movie, too.

There's also lots of puns, visual and verbal, as in Eric making sure that Mr. Magorium has "plenty of space to sleep in."

Having said all that, both DS#2 and I felt that the ending was flat, almost as though the director felt the show had gone on long enough and he had to wrap it up NOW. The relationship between Henry and Mahoney is never really resolved, although it's kind of nice that the male and female leads don't have to be in a romantic relationship. Still, something's missing...

This movie is available on DVD and On Demand. Hubs chose it (it was his birthday) and DS#2 watched it with us. Younger kids would miss the film references and some of the puns, but likely would be captivated by the toys and the idea that a store can have a temper tantrum. Death is treated gently and matter-of-factly ("one story ends so another can begin").

On the March Hare Scale: 4.5 out 5 Golden Tickets

crossposted at The Mad Tea Party

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Benedict of Barvaria

Slowly though I have come to know more personally the man behind the words and have only grown to love him more over time. Though seeing the Pope on a more personal level is difficult since may of the books that address him cover mainly his career with some basic details of his life before going to Rome. I was quite happy to receive Benedict of Bavaria An Intimate Portrait of the Pope and His Homeland recently and figured there was no better time to read it than during the Papal visit. This was exactly the book that I hoped it would be from its title.

The author Brennan Pursell is a convert to the faith and covers his own conversion in the first chapter of his book and his subsequent interest in Josef Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. While the author is an American his wife is German and the book shows that he was quite able to give a perspective of the Pope and his connection to Bavaria to give you a fuller understanding of the man.

The majority of the book covers the time from Josef Ratzinger's birth to his time at Regensburg before going to rome to head the CDF. I am really glad that he spent so much time on this part of the Pope's life since this is the part that I am quite interested in since I have already read plenty on the later chapters of his life. The book is loaded with details and insights into how Catholic Bavaria influenced the Ratzinger family and the connection and pull it had on his life. It is no secret that the Pope desired to go back home and retire with his brother and had requested to retire a couple of times while acting as prefect of the CDF. Seeing the Pope through the lens of Bavaria is quite useful and I felt necessary in coming to a deeper understanding of the man of him as a person.

There were plenty of details I had not seen in print before and though while the book relies on what the Pope has written himself in Milestones and other places there is a good amount the author found through other sources. The book calls itself an intimate portrait and I found that to be true in showing the Pope's family life and his later life with his brother and sister. There are some great stories in this book and I especially loved details like the nicknames given to the two brothers while in seminary. The German nicknames translate roughly to Organ-Ratz and Book-Ratz and it doesn't take too much imagination to determine which of the brothers is Book-Ratz.

The last chapters of the book cover his years in the CDF and then finally as Pope while giving a good overview of the major milestones in what will shortly be three years of his pontificate. Again though what I enjoyed most was the little details that more showed Josef the man and it really it quite amazing that a person with such a great intellect has the humility to match it. It seems to me that these qualities are rarely matched in the same proportions. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the Pope than a more sterile biography would give.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

New Pro-Life Movie Gives Obama and Clinton Answers on When Life Begins

cross-Post from A Catholic View

Hey Hillary and Obama...since you were falling all over yourselves pretending you don't know when life begins, here's some help:

A new pro-life themed movie provides pro-abortion presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton with the answers to the question that stumped them at Sunday's night's faith forum. The head of a pro-life film group says the movie "Come What May" answers the question of when life begins.

As LifeNews.com reported, both Obama and Clinton hedged when asked the question about when life begins.

They appeared to not understand that the union of sperm and egg confers a unique human being with a separate DNA from his or her mother and that growth and development are all that remain during the pregnancy.

"This is something that I have not, I think, come to a firm resolution on," Obama said in the forum. "I think it's very hard to know what that means, when life begins."

Clinton was more elusive in her response, couching her answer in terms of "potential" life.

George Escobar, founder of Advent Film Group, says a "rough-cut" clip from its upcoming movie, Come What May, has been posted on GoogleVideo and GodTube.

Escobar says the clip gives a simple and profound answer to the moral question.

"When life begins is a 'politicized' moral issue," he told LifeNews.com.

"Presidential candidates from both parties recognize this and are waffling," he added. "We hope this clip encourages them (and voters) to take a clear stand for life."

cross-posted on Catholic Media Review

story here

A Warning about Papal Coverage by the MSM

Cross-Post from A Catholic View

The Catholic League predicted it, and so it begins:

The MSM getting a jump-start on their negative spin, by presenting the following headline:

Of course, all Catholics are ashamed of it. I have stated several times that I think any priest proven guilty of abuse should be defrocked, excommunicated and put in jail. Ditto for any Bishops who covered it up. That being said, You can count on the MSM to focus on the scandal, compare Benedict XVI unfavorably with his predecessor John Paul II, and air interviews with dissenters and ex-Catholics.

For complete, accurate coverage visit EWTN, The Catholic Channel, or A Catholic View.

In Their Own Words: Reviews of "Questions and Answers" and "Words of Light"

Questions and Answers
by Pope Benedict XVI
The next question dedicated to the family was made by the parish priest of St. Sylvia. Here, I cannot but fully agree. Furthermore, during the ad limina visits I always speak to bishops about the family, threatened throughout the world in various ways.

The family is threatened in Africa because it is difficult to find the way from "traditional marriage" to "religious marriage," because there is a fear of finality.

Whereas in the West the fear of the child is caused by the fear of losing some part of life, in Africa it is the opposite. Until it is certain that the wife will also bear children, no on dares to enter marriage definitively. Therefore, the number of religious marriages remains relatively small, and even many "good" Christians with an excellent desire to be Christians do not take that final step....
If you ever wanted to ask the pope a question about modern life and living your faith, the chances are that someone already has done it for you. In this book, edited by Michael Dubruiel, we have a collection of questions presented to the pope from 2005 to 2007 by such various groups ranging from children making their first communion and priests from around Italy. In addition to such interesting bits of information as unexpectedly surface in the excerpt above, we see Pope Benedict's considerable range of thinking and ability to link disparate topics into an informative whole.

We also are given food for thought should we care to consider it. For example, in the sample above it is likely that this African view of marriage is quite new to those of us who thought that we already knew all about how marriage was threatened around the world. We are reminded of the scope and range necessary for the universal Church to minister to all of us. We also may ponder the desire of people to control their lives and how it leads to limiting the lives of others, whether marriage partners in Africa or denying children life as happens in the Western world.

The answers are unglossed. When a very complicated question was posed which assumed that the answer was known to all, thereby essentially serving as a statement rather than a question, it filled me with glee to see Pope Benedict answer briefly that he didn't understand the question ... and then make a kindly general statement about the overall topic. Quite often he then goes on to answer the next question by someone else with a comprehensive answer that covers the previous question as well as the most recent one.

Highly recommended.

Words of Light
Inspiration from the letters of Padre Pio
Compiled and introduced by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa [preacher to the papal household]
22 Besides the trial of Spiritual fears and agitations, with just a whiff of desolation, Jesus adds that long and varied trial of physical malaise, using to this end those horrible Cossaks.

Listen to what I had to suffer a few evenings ago from those impure apostates. The night was already advanced; they began their assault with a dreadful noise, and although I saw nothing at the beginning, I understood who was producing this very strange noise; and rather than becoming frightened I prepared myself for the fight by placing a mocking smile on my lips for them. then they appeared under the most abominable forms, and to entice me to lose my resolve they began to treat me courteously. But, thanks be to Heaven, I told them off good and proper, treating them for what they were. When they saw that their efforts were coming to nothing, they hurled themselves at me, they threw me on the ground and struck me again and again, launching pillows, books, chairs into the air, at the same time emitting desperate shrieks and uttering extremely dirty words. Luckily the rooms on either side of where I am, and also those below, are not being used.

I complained to my Guardian Angel about this, who, after having preached a nice little homily to me, added, "Give thanks to Jesus, that he treats you as one chosen to follow him closely up the steep slope of Calvary. I see, soul entrusted to my care by Jesus, with joy and emotion inside me, Jesus' conduct towards you. Do you think that you would be so happy, if you weren't so worn out? I, who in holy charity greatly desire what is best for you, rejoice ever more deeply to see you in this state. Jesus permits the devil these assaults, so that your devotion might make you dear to him, and he wants you to become like him during the anguish in the desert, the garden and the cross. Defend yourself, always drive off these malign insinuations and scorn them; and where your strength is of no use, do not worry, delight of my heart, I am close to you!"
From the section "Satan is a powerful enemy"
I actually had imagined that this book would be a series of complete letters. Instead, we have excerpts from letters. The above sampling is one of the lengthier sections. They are grouped by subject such as "I pray continually" and "I do not wish to ever offend God again." The sections are preceded by a brief commentary from Fr. Cantalamessa which helps put them in context for our contemplation. These excerpts are good for insight into Padre Pio's inner life and also as food for meditation. It is not quite the sort of book that I am attracted to yet I still got a great deal of good from it. It would certainly be a useful book for lectio divina or other contemplative prayer. If you are seeking a book that has concentrated samples of this mystic's life and experiences in Christ then it is definitely recommended.

Monday, April 14, 2008


Cross-post from A Catholic View

It appears that there are no limits to Maher's ignorance or his hatred of the Catholic Church.

On his April 11 HBO show, “Real Time with Bill Maher,” the comedian went into an extended assault on Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic Church. For a transcript, click here.

Catholic League president Bill Donohue responded as follows:

“Maher’s obsession with the Catholic Church continues, only this time there isn’t enough material for him to use as a club, so he literally makes things up. His lies include the following statement: ‘When the—when the current pope was in his previous Vatican job as John Paul’s Dick Cheney—he wrote a letter instructing every Catholic bishop to keep the sex abuse of minors secret until the statute of limitations ran out.’

“A similar lie was floated by an angry ex-Catholic bigot, Rosie O’Donnell. The fact is that before he was named pope, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger had absolutely nothing to do with policing allegations of sexual abuse until 2002, after the scandal erupted that January. And he certainly never counseled bishops to keep sexual abuse secret—this is a bald face lie. Indeed, a week before Pope John Paul II died, he addressed the scandal by saying, ‘How much filth there is in the church, even among those who, in the priesthood, should belong entirely’ to God.

“Maher also lied when he said the pope ‘used to be a Nazi.’ Like all young men in Germany at the time, he was conscripted into a German Youth organization (from which he fled as soon as he could). Every responsible Jewish leader has acknowledged this reality and has never sought to brand the pope a Nazi. That job falls to Maher.

“In 2005, after complaining about another bigoted outburst, I was told by Richard Plepler of HBO that ‘it’s a free country, and people are free to say silly things—even on HBO.’ Last year, after another assault, I was told by Jeff Cusson (replying for Time Warner’s CEO Richard Parsons), that Maher’s anti-Catholic remarks were a matter of ‘creative freedom.’ Well, folks, no one has the freedom to libel someone.” I can't help but wonder what would happen if Maher made those comments about another faith.

story here

A Grace Given

Recently I received A Grace Given for review written by Kent Gilges. This book was both a joy to read and hard to read. In it Kent Gilges who is the father of Elizabeth a child born with a brain tumor is told. This is truly a story of faith and profound grace. Often it reminded me of what C.S. Lewis had told to Sheldon Vanauken that the had received a severe mercy.

The book is written quite wonderfully and it is evident that the author is a talented writer able to relate a tragic story that becomes not so tragic through grace. The author came from a pretty much non-religious background and could be best described as a lapsed-agnostic. There was not a denial of God, but neither much acceptance of God in his life. His wife is Catholic and you can see his own journey in faith and his questioning throughout the book. While his trajectory towards the Catholic Church is evident in the book, it does not appear evident that he has yet joined the Church.

It is such a testament to grace that this couple in the struggle of acceptance of the reality of their daughter illness and the subsequent time caring for her that they never went through a period of doubting and blaming God. There is such beauty and acceptance in them and so much love for their daughter that this book is best read with a box of tissues nearby. You come to know and love their daughter yourself through her fathers' eyes. Their praying for a miracle and going to Lourdes and receiving a private audience with Pope John Paul II are part of the story, but it is the miracles of grace that are most evident in this book.

The book is written as both a sequential retelling of the events as they occurred and with various stories and reflections throughout. This book deserves a wide audience as a testament to Elie and her parents love for her along with the effects of grace in their lives.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Book Review: Mr. Blue

I read Mr. Blue way back in high school at the recommendation of my freshman religion teacher. (My copy cost 65 cents and still bears the return address stickers I used back then.) Some months ago there was a discussion floating around some of the Catholic blogs about Mr. Blue, so I retrieved my copy and re-read it.

Much of what I remember about Mr. Blue remained true. Some of it I rediscovered. And some of it I now read with the eyes of a 50-something adult, who bears responsibilities for a husband, children, mortgage, and job.

This made for some very slow reading, even though the book itself is rather short.

The author, Myles Connolly, was a Catholic who lived in Boston. He attended Boston College, was a reporter, and eventually went to work in the movies as a story writer/editor. Mr. Blue was written in 1928 and I doubt very much that such a character could exist in modern times.

The narrator, who remains unnamed, first hears of Mr. Blue in a bar in New York. The superintendent of a high-rise office building tells of a man who lives on the roof, a man "who's so happy he's almost crazy." The superintendent takes the narrator to meet this young man, who has only a gaily painted packing crate for shelter. The narrator listens while Blue expounds on his philosophy: how if the poor lived on the roofs of the buildings, lifted from their squalor, how their souls would be uplifted as well. How you could see the world from the tops of the buildings. How they were both lucky to be Christians.

"I think," he whispered half to himself, "my heart would break with all this immensity if I did not know that God Himself once stood beneath it, a young man, as small as I."

In high school, we went up to the fourth floor and released balloons in honor of Mr. Blue. (That was back in the day before we understood the ecological damage we were doing. We had the rather romantic idea that someone would find the messages we had tied to the strings, kind of like messages in a bottle, and be uplifted or inspired by them.) Reading the passage about Mr. Blue flying his kite or releasing his balloons brings back some of the innocence and excitement I felt 40 years ago. Because I was excited about my faith, my relationship with God. Despite Vietnam, despite the presidency of Lyndon Johnson, despite the Civil Rights riots in the South, it was an optimistic time. Vatican II was encouraging the laity to become involved in the Church. The Mass was in English and we were trying to find new ways to make the Church a real community. Rev. King was giving stirring speeches; Bobby Kennedy was the Senator from New York.

By the following fall, the national mood went from optimistic to cynical. The Summer of Love degenerated into merely sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll.

Until I read the review of Mr. Blue by Fr. John Breslin, S.J., I didn't think of the contrasts between J. Blue and Jay Gatsby. Both are young men. Both have a dream. Both ultimately die because of it. But one believes in God; one believes in nothing except his "ideal woman," who is all too human and shallow.

When I was 14, I wanted to be Mr. Blue. 40 years later, I find I'm the Narrator. I'm much more practical, even about my faith. I tend to take sunsets and stars for granted. My scope of thought has narrowed from infinity to the next 24 hours. That Myles Connolly was able, as a middle-aged man, to find that part of his soul and create Mr. Blue so I can rediscover it, is something of a miracle. Thank you, Mr. Connolly. Thank you, Mr. Blue

On the March Hare scale: 5 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks

cross-posted on The Mad Tea Party

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Book Review: The Rossetti Letter

One of my favorite genres is historical fiction. So how could I resist a novel that describes itself as "A novel of seventeenth-century Venice and a modern woman's search for a courtesan's secret history"? And it was on the Bargain Table at Barnes & Noble as well!

So I traded spaceships for gondolas.

The novel begins on 3 March 1618. A young courtesan is delivering a letter exposing the plot of the Spanish ambassador and the Spanish Viceroy of Naples to take over the Republic of Venice. She knows her letter puts the one she loves in mortal danger. But to not deliver the letter could mean the end of her City-State.

Flash forward: Claire Donovan, doctoral candidate in Medieval European history is delivering a lecture about the "Spanish Conspiracy" to a local historical society. Key to her lecture, and her doctoral thesis, is the Rossetti Letter--the letter written by the aforementioned young courtesan, Alessandra Rossetti. The lecture does not go well. In fact, Claire faints. This rather sums up the last two years of her life. She took time off to care for her mother, who was stricken with cancer, delaying her doctoral thesis, and her husband asked for a divorce the day of her mother's funeral. Claire has become a hermit, living in her pajamas while she looks through the available records trying to find out if Alessandra was a pawn in the Conspiracy or a patriot, and what happened to her after she delivers the letter to the Venetian Doge and Council.

Claire discovers there is a conference about the Conspiracy scheduled in Venice. At the conference, another researcher will present a talk based on a book she is writing about Alessandra Rossetti. If this book is published before Claire has finished her thesis, especially if the book refutes Claire's thesis, then all of Claire's work will be for naught. Unfortunately, Claire can't afford to travel to Venice.

A friend comes up with a solution. A young high-school student needs a chaperone for a week while her father and new stepmother are on their honeymoon in Nice. Claire can take the girl to Venice, then deliver the girl to her parents in Paris a week later. Claire accepts.

The girl, Gwendolyn, is a modern wealthy 14-year-old: pampered, privileged, and insecure. She and Claire don't hit it off, but they're stuck with each other for a week.

Meanwhile, back in the early 17th Century, Alessandra has problems of her own. Her father and brother have gone down in a shipwreck and her patron has mismanaged what little money she had. She does not have enough money for a dowry, either for marriage or for the convent, unless she wants to become one of the servant class nuns. Alessandra does not have the temperament for the convent nor does she relish becoming a common prostitute. A legendary courtesan, La Celestia, comes to her rescue with a third alternative: becoming a courtesan. Alessandra has the looks, she has the learning, what she needs is the polish. Under La Celestia's tutelage, Alessandra becomes renown, with five powerful men as her lovers. One of these men is the Spanish Ambassador.

But things in Venice are not always what they seem--not in 1618 nor in the present day. Claire chases the ghost of Alessandra while we see what she is doing. Meanwhile, Claire is coming out of her hibernation and learning to enjoy life, especially the attention of men. Gwendolyn, of course, turns out not to be a total brat and even begins to appreciate some of the history that surrounds her.

The author, Christi Phillips, did a great deal of research into European history and wrote a couple of pages about what is actually known about the Spanish Conspiracy and life in Venice during that era. I appreciate that--it's so easy to forget that this is fiction, that there is no Alessandra Rossetti and no letter. The Rossetti Letter is Ms. Phillips' first novel and that sort of shows in her style, which is a little rough in places. But I like the way the book ended--not all the loose ends are neatly tied up, leading me to wonder if another Claire Donovan novel is on the horizon. I kind of hope so.

This is a good vacation/beach/airplane novel. Just enough sex (Alessandra is a courtesan, after all!), lots of description of Venice, some intrigue, some violence (it's the early 17th-Century and life is cheap), no foul language.

On the March Hare scale: 4 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks

Lindsay Lohan to go nude in indie movie to prove she's a 'serious actress'

Cross-Post from The World...IMHO

Poor Lindsay...Hollywood is really taking a toll on her. She should have more respect for herself.

Troubled Hollywood starlet Lindsay Lohan is planning to appear naked in an low-budget film in an effort to revive her flailing career, it has been claimed.

The actress is said to have agreed to strip down for just £40,000 for the indie film Florence to prove herself as a "mature actress".

The 21-year-old, who previously played a pole dancer in the box-office flop I Know Who Killed Me, has reportedly agreed to "full frontal" nudity in her role as a nymphomaniac waitress in the drama.

An insider told The Sun: “Lindsay doesn't care she's getting paid peanuts. She wants to remind people she can act and that she is worth hiring.”

Another source added: “She is fully aware of the potential of her body. Lindsay wants to build up an image as a mature, responsible actress.” So bottom line, she's not getting enough roles, so she's going to make a few bucks by being nude. My question: How does that make her a 'serious actress'?

The actress is no stranger to stripping down - she posed nude for New York magazine in March in a recreation of Marilyn Monroe's legendary 1962 shoot by Bert Stern.

Lindsay has previously spoken about her struggle to find quality acting roles following a difficult year which included yet another stint in rehab.

She said last month: "Right now I just want to find a great script, a great role. Uh Lindsay, let's be honest... if a guy is watching you 'act' nude, he's not going to care too much about the script. :)

story here

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Two Book Reviews: Compact Catholic Prayer Book, Mary and the Christian Life

I am not sure just how The Word Among Us knew that I had been needing these two books but they have printed resources that I have long been seeking. The answer, of course, is that I am not the only one who needs them. You just might find the perfect answer to a gift for first communion, a wedding, or a much needed resource for someone contemplating entering the Church.

The Compact Catholic Prayer Book
Prayer Before a Crucifix
Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus, while before your face I humbly kneel and ask you to fix deep in my heart lively faith, ope, and charity; true contrition for my sins; and firm purpose of amendment; while I contemplate with great love and tender grief your five wounds; while I call to mind the words your prophet David said of you, my Jesus: "They pierced my hands and my feet; they numbered all my bones" (see Psalm 22:17).
I have been looking for "the right" Catholic prayer book for a long time and not found one that just suited my needs perfectly until receiving this one. A treasury of traditional prayers, this little book is one that I have been slipping into my "big bag" just in case I need quick reference to the Act of Contrition (yes, I still don't have it memorized) or I stop in for a quick visit to Jesus in the tabernacle and want a prayer or something for contemplation. It has clearly marked sections for Everyday Prayers, Prayer and the Sacraments, Prayers to Mary and the Saints, Classic devotional Prayers, and Prayers for Special Needs. Most of the prayers are traditional while a few are contemporary. The contemporary are clearly marked with the initials of the writer so it is easy to sort out which is which, if one desires to do so. Looking through it, I have found a wealth of prayer assistance that I didn't know existed, such as the many prayers and scriptures available to use before confession. There is also a basic examination of conscience included. The index is an alphabetical list of prayers which I have found very handy as well. Highly recommended.

Mary and the Christian Life by Amy Welborn
Flannery O'Connor, the great American writer who was also a devout Catholic, and who also suffered and died from the immunological disease lupus, once wrote that being sick is like being in a foreign country. This is true of any kind of physical, psychological, or spiritual suffering as well. there are borders, it seems. Maybe even fences and the border patrol.

So how can we help?

Look at Mary.

Be present. Don't hide, don't shut doors, and don't turn away, convinced that there is nothihg you could do or that there is no need for you.

Love, after all, is what John tells us over and over that Jesus is about. Love required, first of all, presence. sometimes our presence can lead to action, but sometimes presence is enough.

Of course, presence is hard. It is horrible to watch someone suffer; it is even worse when our hands are tied. Who wouldn't be tempted to run away? Even if we're not in the situation of the disciples, who literally feared for their lives, remaining with the suffering can make us fear for our lives in another way, as we face our own future, as we face the possibilities of pain that exist for all of us, as we are reminded of the suffering we may have survived in the past.

But given all of that, what is really the alternative to presence? It's running away, denial, closed eyes. It is fear.

We don't know what went through Mary's mind as she watched her Son suffer and die. We can guess, and writers through history have used their imaginations to describe what she might have been feeling. A minor but intriguing theme of some medieval spiritual writing was that as she watched Jesus die, Mary experienced the birth pangs she had been spared thirty-three years before.

But it's hard to say what she felt beyond the normal pain of a mother watching her son unjustly executed and the extraordinary pain of a sword through her heart as she went over and over the angel's promises so long ago.

Jesus said that whenever we encounter suffering, we encounter him (see Matthew 25:31-46). So it stands to reason that when we are present with suffering, we are present at the cross with Mary at our side. We watch her and we learn how to be present, which means how to love, simply and deeply ...
I truly enjoyed Amy Welborn's The Words We Pray and learned a lot from it so it is not surprising that I found a great deal of value in this book about Mary as well. The passage above gives a hint of the theological depth which she makes easily available to us, while showing clearly how Christ's first disciple, his mother, is a prime example of how to follow Him. Likewise, Welborn ties in Mary's life to our own so that we are given many examples of how the trials and joys of everyday life have much to contemplate that brings us closer to Jesus. As we are guided through the Annunciation, the Visitation, and on to Mary's appearance in the Book of Revelations, there are other contemplations on Mary included in appropriate sections. From Hilary of Poitiers to Caryll Houselander, from Thomas Merton to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II, thoughtfully selected hymns and thoughts enrich the journey. As well, each section ends with "On the Devotional Side" which highlights a particular devotion to Mary. We are given not only the devotion itself, but the history and how it has influenced the saints as well as more current people. It is hard to imagine that such a complete resource can be only 150 pages but Welborn has done it beautifully. This is a book that I can use for my own enlightenment as well as being a perfect gift to those who wonder just what it is about Mary that attracts Catholics so. Highly recommended.

A pdf of the first chapter of the book may be downloaded here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Tom Cruise, not a great choice for Godfather, Jaylo!

It breaks my heart when I remember the storyof Tom Cruise's diffucult youth, son of a single mother, enrolled in a Catholic Junior Seminary, helping his mother through difficult times, and then see him as a major advocate for the cult of Scientology. And now Jennifer Lopez has convinced her husband Marc Anthony to allow Cruise to be the Godfather of their twins, Max and Emme.
Let's hope they find a priest who sets them straight on this issue. Or, better yet, leads Tom Cruise back to the faith of his childhood. What a great story that would be!
Read the entire story here.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Catholic Catechism

I recently read The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Catholic Catechism by Mary DeTurris Poust with theological advisor Fr. David Fulton STD, JCD. Like other books in the Complete Idiot's Guide and Dummies series they present a subject on a beginners level in a somewhat lighthearted way.

Since this one is on the Catholic Catechism itself it is really an introduction to the Catholic faith for beginners along with and introduction explaining the Catechism and the format. For many the size of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is daunting and some might find the language used to be difficult so there will always be a place for a smaller catechism. I remember when I first came across a small catechism at the library written by a source I don't remember, though the experience of reading even these short explanations of the Catholic faith had quite an effect on my life and got me to accept some sins that I up to that point I would have rather have not learned were sins. So I can certainly see how important even a shorter treatment of the Catechism can be.

I found the Complete Idiot's Guide to the Catholic Catechism to be totally in conformance with the Catholic faith and presented the faith quite well. There are plenty of sidebars to further explain words and concepts likely to be unfamiliar to the reader as is common with these types of books. It is also written in a manner easy to read and she uses some humor in her explanations. Though she does not let the humor get in the way and mainly keeps to explaining the various paragraphs of the Catechism. As you would expect there are paragraph reference numbers to the Catechism throughout the book.

I found the book to be a quite useful addition to the number of books concerning the Catechism and I think good orthodox books that serve as an introduction to the faith are always useful. There are only a couple of places in the book where I might have wanted something worded a bit differently, but really nothing to the point where it was in real error. She does make the quite common mistake of thinking the Pope charism of Papal Infallibility to be rare when the fact is it is exercised at every canonization.

There is also another book with a similar format called Catholicism for Dummies by Fr. Trigillo and Fr. Brighenti. I have heard a lot of great things about this other book, though I haven't read it myself yet. Regardless Mary DeTurris Poust book is an excellent entry into the field and one I can recommend to those looking for a solid introduction that is also light reading.