Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Reviewing "Full Catastrophe" - For Everyone Who Ever Wondered About Volunteering at Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying

Since my foray into the morgue some time ago, I have often been deputised to inspect the inhabitants and make sure that all are present and correct. Today as I check the bodies, a movement on the seccond shelf on the left-hand side almost has me joining the residents of the right-hand side. With my heart pounding in my ears and the ever-present sweat turned to ice, I tentatively reach for the offending sheet. My fingers are shaking so badly I can barely untie the knot.

I recognise the man and immediately realise he is still alive, if only just. Storming from the morgue I feel nothing but rage. The brothers are my targets and the first poor bugger that I see cops the full brunt of my attack. ...

Gathering the brothers around me an hour later I ask the all important question: 'How do you tell if somebody is dead?' The general consensus among them seems to be that the person has to be cold and not moving. My hands bury themselves in my hair in an attempt to prevent them from strangling one of the brothers. With more patience than I ever knew I possessed, I carefully explain the rudimentary function of the heart and the lungs. They find this highly amusing and inform me that of course they know all that. At this stage I explode and yell, 'Well then, why didn't you bloody well check them on this patient?' I take them all back down to the man in question and with the aid of a stethoscope ask them to check his heartbeat. As fate would have it, one look at the man tells me that we are already too late; however, the first brother happily reports a heartbeat ...
This book answers a question I have often wondered, though never thought about long enough to articulate. What is it like to actually be a volunteer in one of Mother Teresa's homes for the ill, destitute, and dying in Calcutta? Australian Tracey Leonard answers that and more in this book which also covers her brief time of volunteer work among the aborigines in Australia. About three-fourths of this book is about time spent in India with the Australian volunteering taking up most of the remaining book.

Leonard is honest, unpretentious, and humorous. She gives what I imagine is an excellent look at the real world, shorn of the unrealistic expectations that practically every volunteer must have when reporting for duty with the Missionaries of Charity. As well, Tracey's frequent encounters with expats who befriend her provide a brief respite from the grueling volunteer work and show us a brief view of what life in Calcutta is like for other expats who are there for business. She follows a similar pattern in recounting her time among the aborigines.

Inspirational moments are far and few between, but that does not seem to be what she is looking for. The few times she mentions such instances are the more powerful as the focus is mostly on the work of living in Calcutta or among aborigines and on providing care for the needy.

Leonard's car accident is the reason she wrote the book and one imagines that there would be more introspection given in the twelve pages covering the event and afterwards. However, that is not the case. We are told, in Leonard's characteristic, forthright style about what it is like to be a quadriplegic. As usual a quick summary of her thinking about the situation and what she has learned are covered in a couple of paragraphs and then she moves forward with an equally characteristic mental shrug and positive comment.

Overall I enjoyed the book although I would have wished for a bit more depth on Leonard's motivations for doing all the volunteering, which we never really find out about at all. I also would have liked more than a sentence here or there about her thoughts on deeper subjects.

It would have been nice if this book had been brought up to date. It was  written in 1999 but is just now being published in this country. We  wonder what happened to Tracey. However, all in all, the book was an enjoyable and informative look into actual experiences of working with those who are in desperate need, no matter what part of the world.

Movie Review: True Grit - PG13

Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross wants to avenge her father's murder by tracking down the man who killed him, Tom Chaney.   She wants him to be tried, but she can't bring him in alone, so she hires drunken U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges).   They find themselves racing against Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Matt Damon, who wants to bring Chaney back to Texas to be tried for another  crime.

Hailee Steinfeld was excellent as Mattie.  It was entertaining to watch how her 14 year-old character interacted with the older adult characters.  Jeff Bridges was most impressive as he was able to transform himself into the character of Cogburn.  Matt Damon was good as La Boeuf, but I think Damon is really at his best when he is the central character, as in the Bourne movies,  The Informant or Hereafter.

I didn't see the original True Grit, but my mother told me this version  was quite true to the original.  My 13 year-old nephews liked it a lot.

There were a couple of gory scenes, but the scene I found most disturbing was when a horse died toward the end.

It was a well-done, entertaining movie.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Review: "Coral Moon" by Brandilyn Collins

Reporter Leslie Brymes finds the body of one of one of Kanner Lake's beloved citizens and naturally, an investigation is begun by  Police Chief Vince Edwards.  

The pace of the story is just right (it wasn't rushed, nor did it drag), and it was good to see some of the same Kanner Lake characters again for this story.  The characters are a strong positive aspect, but the skillfullness with which the story is told is also excellent.  Ms. Collins also pulls a startling twist toward the end. 

I often read mysteries involving a murder, but this story was unique in that it soon involves evidence pointing to a deceased person and some people holding a seance.   I have to admit that I had misgivings about the supernatural aspects of the story  as I was reading, but  I was most impressed with how Ms. Collins handled the whole situation. She delivers a strong, clear message at the end which should please Christians. 

Ms. Collins is becoming one of my favorite authors.  If you enjoy a good mystery without a lot of objectionable or offensive content, I strongly suggest you check out her books.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Reading; "Oh Holy Night: The Peace of 1914"

We had the time of our lives on Christmas Day. The Germans left their trenches and walked without their rifles half-way across the field to where we were entrenched. There was not a shot fired. Some of our chaps then got out and went to meet the German soldiers. You should have seen them shaking hands with our boys and handing them smokes. Both sides walked and talked with one another as if there was nothing the matter. later on our lads helped the Germans to bury their dead and sang over the graves. It was a sigh you could never forget.
Lance Corporal George Yearsley
Oh Holy Night: The Peace of 1914  by Michael C. Snow is a truly moving account of the Christmas Eve in 1914 during World War I when German and British soldiers left their trenches and met in "no man's land" to celebrate a common day of peace and fellowship. Told through British soldiers' letters home, we see the common themes of surprise and thankfulness over this shared Christian celebration with their fellow men. This is followed by the dismaying official orders from those far from the war who declare that any similar displays of good fellowship toward enemy soldiers will be treated as treason.

The event is then contrasted in the second part of the book with a personal connection between rival nations at a higher level as we see the great affection between Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II and Russia's Czar Nicholas II who were cousins through their grandmother, Queen Victoria. Their personal notes to each other from the year before World War I show their fondness and we follow the breakdown in relations between countries as each cousin strives to believe the best of the other behind the scenes.

Threaded through these accounts are Christmas carols, scripture of Christ's birth and teachings, psalms, reflection from saints and others including Mark Twain. The author uses all of these and his own reflections to bring the reader to consider peace, war, mercy, forgiveness, and living Christ's teachings.

The author provided me with a pdf of this book (I converted it to mobi for my Kindle). I plan on purchasing a copy as I think it is a worthy accompaniment to Dickens' A Christmas Carol in reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas in bringing Christ's light into the world.

Highest recommendation.

Riu Riu Chiu; my favorite Christmas carol this season

Riu, riu, chiu
La guarda rivera
Dios guarda el lobo
De nuestra cordera

Riu, riu, chiu

El lobo rabioso la quiso morder
Mas Dios poderoso la supo defender
Quisole hacer que no pudiese pecar
Ni aun original la Virgen no tuviera

Riu, riu, chiu
La guarda rivera

Este viene a dar a los muertos vida
Y viene a reparar de todos la caida
Es la luz del dia aqueste mochuelo
Este es el cordero que San Juan dijera

Riu, riu, chiu
Guarda rivera

Este qu'es nacido es el gran monarca
Cristo patriarca de carne vestido
Hemos redimido con se hacer chiquito
Aunqu'era infinito, finito se hiciera

Riu, riu, chiu
La guarda rivera

English Translation:
Riu, riu, chiu
The river bank protects it,
As God kept the wolf from the lamb.

The rabid wolf tried to bite her,
But God Almightly knew how to defend her,
He wished to create her impervious to sin,
Nor was this maid to embody original sin.

Riu, riu, chiu
The river bank protects it,
As God kept the wolf from the lamb.

He comes to give life to the dead,
He comes to redeem the fall of man;
This Child is the light of day,
He is the very Lamb Saint John prophecied.

Riu, riu, chiu
The river bank protects it,
As God kept the wolf from the lamb.

A thousand singing herons I saw passing,
Flying overhead, sounding a thousand voices,
Exhulting, "Glory be in the heavens, and peace on earth,
For Jesus has been born."

Riu, riu, chiu
The river bank protects it,
As God kept the wolf from the lamb.

Riu, riu, chiu (nightingale's sounds)

Riu, riu, chiu was written in so-called villancico style, which became a popular form for songs in post-Renaissance Spain. Such songs are in ternary form, with a text expressing some aspect of Christian principles or beliefs. This carol became one of the more widely known such works in its time. The author of this carol is generally thought to be anonymous, but its text, possibly originally written in Portuguese, has been attributed by some to Mateo Flecha (1481-1553). The melody to Riu, riu, chiu probably dates to the fifteenth century or earlier. The words in the title are vocalizations of the sounds made by a nightingale. The main theme is lively and rhythmic and has an instant appeal, lingering in the mind long after one or two hearings. It exudes folk-ish color.  One hears a mixture of Renaissance-era elegance here with a sort of peasant-like festivity. Its text speaks of the roles of the Blessed Mother and the Redeemer. ~ All Music Guide 

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Music Review: Christmas in God's Country Vol. 2

I received this CD in the mail yesterday and listened to it immediately.  
I only wish I had received it earlier to enjoy during the Advent and Christmas season.  The music is beautiful.  There are traditional hymns that you'll recognize;  my favorite of these are "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Silent Night".   There are several that you may not be familiar with;  my favorite of these are "The Huron Carol" and "Jesu, Amor Mi".  The young men and women in the Wyoming Catholic College Choir put a lot of effort into their music and the result is a beautiful collection of music.  I encourage you to support them


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

When "Meaning Well" Isn't Enough: Reviewing "The Judas Syndrome"

We have all heard of ancient heresies from the time when the Church was new and when the Church Fathers were considering what the revelation of Jesus Christ meant to Christians. However, there is a great tendency to think of those heresies as things that were dealt with and that went away. Who these days is called upon to point out the mistakes inherent in Pelagianism, Origenism, or Macedoniasm? As it turns out, all faithful Catholics are called upon to do that very thing. We just don't see the connection between ancient heresies and their modern manifestations.

The Judas Syndrome does great service to Catholics in examining several major heresies from the past and revealing at how they are still at work in modern culture. What author Thomas Colyandro reveals is that the great historical heresies were not begun by people who merely misunderstood truth or "meant well" but began as willful betrayals of Christ and the Church, hence the name of the book.

The book focuses on seven heresies, with each chapter examining a different heresy indepth. Colyandro begins by stating a Church teaching and then briefly stating the origin and summary of the heresy against that teaching. He then clearly traces Old Testament precursors and New Testament fulfillment in Christ of Church teachings as the reasoning behind Church positions. This prepares the reader for the inherent problem with the heresy under examination.

The origin and history of the particular heresy are then examined. Responses from Church defenders are given, ranging from apostles to Church Fathers. In all instances, Colyandro quotes excerpts that make it easy to see just what is at stake. In fact, when reading some of the Fathers' refutations of particular heresies I would feel a shock of recognition because they were discussing behavior I had seen in people around me.

Finally, modern examples of the heresy's development in our culture are revealed. This is when the reader receives confirmation of suspicions about modern heresies that had been building during the chapter. As well, there are often other examples tied in which have been in existence for so long that the reader may well have not thought to question it. Thanks to Colyandro's careful unfolding of the path a heresy has taken from the very beginning to our own lifetime, readers are given the tools to help recognize them and to begin refuting them.

The book's conclusion discusses the liturgy as an antidote to the Judas syndrome. Colyandro takes the reader back to Christ, to the apostles, to the Church Fathers, all of whom never forgot that the main point was God's desire for an intimate relationship with us. The liturgy is the final expression of that key point and Colyandro takes great care to make it crystal clear that the liturgical requirements are in place specifically to keep us in communion with Christ.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Book Review: LIttle Star

by Anthony DeStefano
illustrated by Mark Elliot

“Little Star” is a tender Christmas tale about the smallest star in the universe, ignored because of his size, who refused to let the opinions of his fellow stars discourage from doing what he knew was right and becoming the most famous star in history; the Christmas Star. It’s a powerful story which encourages children to love Jesus with all their hearts, and remember that their whole-hearted gift of themselves to Him is the heart of Christmas.
The story is set in a home where a little boy is searching the night sky for the Christmas Star. His father tells him the story of why the Star no longer graces the sky on Christmas. When the birth of Jesus approached, the stars in heaven were excited about the news that a king was coming whose message would change the world forever, and that the star which shone most brightly for Him would win a special reward. They were dusted by long tailed comets to make them sparkle; all but Little Star who was once again overlooked because of his littleness.
As the stars watched from Heaven, the Holy Family was rejected over and over again, and the tiny child was born quietly in the cold, dark stable. Little Star thought it was a strange way for a king to be born, however, he was not discouraged like the bigger stars who gave up on the challenge to be the brightest star. Little Star knew that being little doesn’t mean you are less important to God. “’I think I understand,’ Little Star cried out. ‘The Baby Jesus IS a king! He’s just little.’”
So, Little Star burned with all his strength, offering his light and warmth to the Baby Jesus in the drafty stable, despite warnings from other stars that burning so brightly would shorten his life. Little Star was the only star who understood that “Jesus wanted to be born little to show all the people of the world that he loved them, no matter how small and poor they are.”
“Little Star” is a simple story told in young children’s language, warmly illustrated with engaging, Disney-like images, which will appeal to the toddler, yet it is imbued with layers of meaning which will challenge the adults who read the story to look deeper into their understanding of the Gospel.
Author Anthony DeStefano is a lifelong pro-life activist, and the author of “The Travel Guide to Heaven”. On the EWTN program “Bookmark” he explores some of the spiritual themes woven into this moving little story, written decades ago when he was Frank McCourt’s creative writing student in high school. His profoundly moving book will start many a discussion in your family about the meaning of Christmas and the true nature of love.

The Old, the New, and the Third: Reviewing "The Third Testament"

Fred is a grieving widower with one daughter who lives near Chicago. A faithful Catholic, he begins having a series of dreams which make him realize that he is being prompted to write the third testament to the Bible ... which would update it for modern times. Soon after this, he is served with what seems to be a bogus summons that nonetheless threatens to take his home from him and his daughter finds she has melanoma which is spreading rapidly through her body.

At this point, Fred turns to his writing as a panacea for his mental and emotional struggles. The current story serves as a thin thread which holds together the history that Fred is writing. The author includes much more of the history, both as Fred's thoughts and then as samples of what he is writing. Eklund has a knack for picking out interesting people and events and pulling up tidbits that I hadn't heard, even when I was familiar with the piece of history.

The Third Testament was an interesting book on several levels. It is clearly a first novel and the author does not have a very good ear for natural dialogue. He also has a tendency to preach a bit when the protagonist is thinking. For example, gazing at the sky and seeing an eagle, Fred suddenly takes a mental side trip onto American virtues. This is a bit wearying and tended to put me off the book.

The modern story is extremely one dimensional, yet, I nonetheless still found myself interested in whether Ellen would beat her cancer, the different places that Fred would encounter his new friend (Tony), and whether we would get more than a whiff of evil from the lawyer suing Fred.

I am glad that I persevered despite the sometimes clunky writing int the modern section because the author has a much more natural flow when writing any of the "third testament" and detailing Catholic Church history. There still is a tendency to preach some but since it is within the context of the history this becomes easier to take.

The book as a whole overcomes the problems if one is willing to overlook them and I found it a satisfying read. I will be interested to see what this author writes next.

(Note: I read a review copy but I'd have criticized ... and praised ... the book anyway!)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Colin Duriez quotes CMR at Church Times of London

One of my goals in founding Catholic Media Review was to provide an authentic Catholic voice in the world of media. It has been my great honor to be quoted in a London Episcopal Weekly, The Church Times by CS Lewis expert, Colin Duriez.

 Colin Duriez is the author of A Field Guide to Narnia (The History Press); The C. S. LewisChronicles (DLT); and J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: The story of their friendship (TheHistory Press), among other books on Tolkien and the Inklings.
Despite such an impressive resume, Mr Duriez was interested in the opinion of a Roman Catholic film critic, this demonstrates the prominence of our work here at CMR. Unfortunately the articls is subscriber only, but here are the quotes Mr Duriez used from our interview.

This might suggest that the films are ambiguous about portraying the exclusiveness of Christ as Saviour. Leticia Velasquez, the founder of the blog Catholic Media Review, finds the films uneven. For her, the portrayal of Aslan is integral to a faithful representation of Lewis’s stories.
She very much approves of the lion-creator’s portrayal in both The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. But she is critical of Prince Caspian: “Some editing of the book for length, clarity of the storyline, are forgivable. However, a watering down of Aslan’s role as the Christ figure was not justified in my eyes or in that of the Christian audience. The downplay-ng of Aslan in Prince Caspian was the downfall of the film.”
Velasquez believes that the strength of the stories and characters contained in the Chronicles of Narnia will ensure that the series will survive the Hollywood treatment: “Lewis, like Dickens, has provided substantive story lines and exquisite characters, and, like Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, will survive various film interpretations and remain part of the cultural heritage.”

Book Review: "Where do Sisters Come From"

Where Do Sisters Come From?
by Elizabeth Ficocelli
Illustrations by Shannon Wirrenga
Waterford, MI: Bezalel Books, 2010

“Where Do Sisters Come From?” by Elizabeth Ficocelli is the perfect introduction to women’s consecrated religious life for children. In an era where Catholic children may be exposed to relatively few sisters, their way of life may seem very mysterious indeed. Who are these sisters and what is their life like? “Where Do Sisters Come From?” answers these questions with honesty and beauty. While this book is written for girls to encourage them to consider the possibility that they might be called by God to this way of life, it is important to note that it is equally informative for boys.

Ficocelli begins by describing the process of discernment. What does it mean to hear God’s call and to respond to it? She discusses the importance of prayer and finding the right religious community. The three vows a sister takes are defined, as is the habit many sisters wear.

Ficocelli then explores the many ways sisters can live out their vocational call, working in many different professions, serving as a missionary, or living within their own religious community as a nun. She emphasizes that they have lives outside of their work as well. They have their families of origin that they are still a part of, as well as friends and hobbies. As she states, “Sisters come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. But one thing they all have in common is a love for their faith, and a desire to be like Jesus, leading people to God.”

“Where Do Sisters Come From?” is a wonderful book to share with your children or grandchildren. It would also make a great addition to a parish religious education program or library. It is a magnificent vocations tool.

Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Book Review; Mother Teresa and Me: Ten Years of Friendship

by Donna Marie Cooper O’Boyle
Non-fiction, 192 pages

     Popular Catholic author,  and ETWN series host,  Donna Marie Cooper O’Boyle was a young mother when her life was changed forever with an encounter with the 20th Century’s most famous woman, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta in her convent in Washington DC. . In “Mother Teresa and Me” Donna tells the story of a decade of friendship, beginning each chapter with a letter to her from Mother Teresa, and sharing how their meeting became the inspiration for her own apostolate, sharing her message of self-giving love. At first, Donna, is awed by the contact with the celebrity “In fact, I think my heart stopped for that moment. This same woman who traveled the world ministering to the “poorest of the poor”, a woman highly respected by popes and presidents and millions of people, had just spoken to . . .me”. Soon, Mother Teresa’s warmth overcame Donna’s awe and they had a conversation which flowed easily. “That first encounter with the saint . . .penetrated my heart, and etched an unforgettable message that remains to this day.”
      In her motherly style, Donna engages the reader in her close spiritual friendship with the future saint. Photocopies of Mother Teresa’s letters and photos of her with Donna and her children add to the feeling that you are sitting on a sofa with Donna, pouring through her personal scrapbook, sharing her treasured memories of her best friend and mentor. Her self effacing style lends charm to her account of spending a weekend with homeless women in the Missionaries of Charity shelter in Harlem.
      Mother Teresa’s counsels Donna in times of joy; the birth of her son Joseph, and consoles her in times of suffering; when a car accident left her with constant pain. Mother Teresa presides over the birth of Donna’s apostolate to console the suffering by using her unique gifts “I am very glad that you are using this gift God gave you to spread His love and mercy to all”. She urges Donna to use her suffering in her apostolate; “May you yourself be a Veronica to Jesus who is suffering in so many people; the sick, the incurables, the aged, and the unwanted- to bring them solace and strength.”
     Donna shares in riveting detail how her apostolate brought joy and peace to neighbors and strangers alike, as Mother Teresa’s prayers and wisdom began to have a ripple effect through her to touch thousands. She quotes from Scripture and Pope John Paul II  to create a brief yet profound introduction to Mother Teresa’s life and spirituality. Through the power of personal testimony the towering figure of Mother Teresa becomes a beloved friend who inspires the reader to become Christ to the suffering all around us.
     I was fortunate to see Mother Teresa address my diocese in 1985, and to receive a letter from her in 1990, inviting me to visit her convent in the Bronx. Her profound humility and devotion to serve Christ in the poor inspired my work as a social worker and teacher of immigrants, but most of all, to serve my family in love. I realized that I was fortunate to have had such contact with Mother, and cherish her parting words to me in her letter, “Put your hand in Mary’s hand and she will lead you to Jesus”. Since Mother has left our midst, such firsthand accounts as Donna Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s book “Mother Teresa and Me” are precious and serve to provide the emotional immediacy of an encounter with sanctity which can transform our hearts into fertile ground for Christ’s love to grow.

DVD: The Search for Santa Paws

Disney Studios DVD and Blu-Ray
Rated G
A prequel to the film “Santa Paws”, released to DVD last year. In “The Search for Santa Paws” Santa’s best friend Santa Paws remembers when their friendship began, and how he saved Santa when he was lost in New York City. Santa was searching for a remnant of Christmas spirit when he is involved in a hit-and-run and loses his memory. It is up to his friend Santa Paws to lead the search and rescue for Santa, helped by a trio of ethnic street dogs, his reindeer Comet (voice by Diedrich Bader) and a wise cracking cab driver.
 “The Search for Santa Paws” is a  Santa Tale with plenty of magic and several nods to other Christmas movies; “A Miracle on 34th Street”, “Annie”, “Home Alone 2” and “The Year Without a Santa Claus”. Touching on refreshingly traditional Christmas themes; the film includes mistreated orphans, a mysterious Santa Claus who has a special appeal to children, and talking animals who save Santa. The children and animals work together against the wicked Foster Home owner who refuses to celebrate Christmas or allow any joy into her Foster Home, to bring back Santa’s memory and preserve his immortality.

John Ducey is convincing as Mr. Huckle a man who is cynical about Christmas and wants to sell the toy store he inherited from his father. It takes his lovely wife Mrs. Huckle (Bonnie Somerville) to convince him to open the toy store one last time, and to hire an amazingly realistic Santa to draw customers.
 The film is whimsical and touching, and not just for little children, my teens were sleepy in their chairs till Kaitlyn Maher (America’s Got Talent) made a dazzling appearance as Quinn, the littlest orphan who plots with her best friend Will (The Game Plan’s Madison Pettis) to save Santa. This plot twist and the adorable orphans made the teenaged girls sit up and cheer at the triumphant conclusion which affirms the values of love and family through the use of Christmas magic.
Some reference to ‘magic crystals’ with spiritual power centered in the North Pole may be confusing to children, so some parental supervision is recommended. Disturbing scenes where orphans are mistreated and Santa’s health is failing.
For age 6 and up. 

Book Review: "Violet Dawn" by Brandilyn Collins

In the small town of Kanner Lake, shy and reclusive Paige Williams finds a dead body.  That becomes the focal point of the story, which revolves around the search for a missing person.  The person is considered missing rather than deceased, because Paige is so distrusting of the police that she conceals the crime. 

To be honest, the first half of the story moved much too slow for my liking, but things really pick up as we find out more about Paige's past, and  the reason why she found the body to begin with.  The conclusion is very attention-grabbing, especially as two characters find their lives threatened.

Character development is the best aspect of "Violet Dawn".  I really enjoyed the characters, especially Vince Edwards the police chief, Bailey Truitt who owns the local coffee shop, and reporter Leslie Brymes. 

There is a very subtle Christian theme throughout.
If you are looking for a good mystery without the objectionable content that is so prevalent in today's media, Ms. Collins is an author you should follow.

Monday, December 13, 2010

By Maria T DiVencenzo
Illustrated by Elaine S. Verstraete

Opening the Christmas tree box is an emotional experience in our home. Nestled inside last year’s newspapers are fragile handmade ornaments from our children, treasured gifts from distant friends or relatives that have passed away; each ornament laden with happy memories. Our girls get possessive over certain pieces collecting their own little pile to hang on the tree. They each have their “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments, their ballet dancers, and baseball players, birdhouses and kitties, Santa, and Elmo, but mostly there are stars and angels, and images of the Madonna and Child. We have tried to maintain in our Christmas tree a balance between the lavishness of the Christmas season, with all its glitz and giving, with the stark reality of the humble manger which was honored to hold the Son of God.  We look for books and music that do the same, and have found such a treasure in “The Star of Christmas”.

“The Star of Christmas” is written from the point of view of a charming little girl who falls asleep under her Christmas tree, waiting, though the magic of Christmas, to hear the ornaments speak. She is awakened by the sounds of her Christmas tree ornaments talking. It seems they are arguing among themselves about who is the star of Christmas. At first the China Doll, claims to be the VMIP (Very Most Important Person) of Christmas because of her beauty. “Christmas is beautiful! It’s full of sparkle and shine, just like I am,” she says while dancing around the floor.

The little girl with the tousled curls and the sleeper pajamas gently explains to the China Doll and the rest of the ornaments, that, although they symbolize important aspects of Christmas, there is still a deeper meaning. We see how the dazzle, the gifts, magic, the songs, the love and even the giving and the peace of the season are not the center of Christmas. Like the mother of the toddler, who, on Christmas morning becomes engrossed with the wrapping of his first present, forgetting the toy inside, Maria T. DiVencenzo, takes us though the peripheral joys of the season, gently reminding us to enjoy the gift hidden beneath the trappings.

Elaine S. Vertraete’s extraordinary illustrations lend an intimacy to the story, enabling the young audience to share the tenderness of the little girl towards each ornament and emphasizing the simple, yet moving conclusion. Each illustration is bathed with that singular light that emanates from old-fashioned Christmas tree lights.

“The Star of Christmas” is one of the treasured occupants of our family Christmas boxes, and will be shared for years to come as we remind ourselves once again, who is the Star of Christmas.
Recommended for babies through age 7, although this could be a thought-provoking family read aloud.

Gresham: Narnia is about Evangelization

Of course it is. CS Lewis, besides being an Oxford Don was also one of the 20th century's greatest Christian apologists.

Douglas Gresham, the film’s executive producer and Lewis’ adoptive son, who describes himself as a “card-carrying Narnian Christian,” told Relevant Magazine that the purpose is for readers and viewers to come to know Christ through the character of Aslan.
“When you read the Narnia Chronicles, you should be able to get to know Aslan very well throughout the seven books,” he said.  “If that happens, as it should happen and does happen, you’ll then know his new name, his different name here in this world as a result of having known him as Aslan in Narnia.”

When you defend the faith, you evangelize in one way, when you write powerful fiction you evangelize in a more subtle, yet arguably, more powerful way. Look at the Harry Potter and Twilight series,the first  has increased interest in witchcraft and the other in vampirism and biting. Recently, I was horrified to see lip gloss  commercial advertising the "just bitten" look. Philip Pullman openly admitted that his "His Dark Materials" series was to bring children toward atheism the way Lewis' Narnia brought them towards Christianity.
Guess whose movie is doing better?

Read more at Life Site News. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Movie Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Lucy and Edmund are transported back to Narnia through a picture, along with their cousin Eustace.  They arrive on the Dawn Treader, which is Prince Caspian's ship.  They join him in the search for seven missing warriors and a missing family on a remote island.  

In addition to their search, they must each deal with personal temptations meant to deter them from their mission.

As has been discussed in recent press, there are numerous religious references, particularly through Aslan, the Lion.  There is a scene where he heals someone, another where he promises to always be watching over Lucy and the others, and "Asland's country", a peaceful place that is a destination from which you don't return, is an obvious reference to heaven.

There is never a dull is continually entertaining and non-stop action.   I feel it is the best of the 3 Narnia movies.   My nephews, age 12, also loved it.

Excellent!  Don't Miss it!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Review of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Life is dreary for Lucy (Georgie Henley) — and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) at the home of their Uncle Scrubb in Cambridge. The rest of their family is in the United States where their father is working on behalf of the war effort. Meanwhile, they are tormented by their spoiled cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) who is not happy that there are there, and mocks them for their talk of Narnia, which they miss more each day. Imagine Eustace’s astonishment, when a painting of a ship in the bedroom begins to leak seawater. Soon the room is flooded and all three children are swimming up towards the ship in the painting, the Dawn Treader. Lucy and Edmund are delighted to resume their lives in Narnia, which they left only three years ago in Narnian years. They are joyfully welcomed by King Caspian (Ben Barnes) and the indomitable Reepicheep (voice by Simon Pegs).

 Eustace is still adjusting to the fact that he is aboard a ship in a magical land, and treats Reepicheep as his nemesis. The cheeky little mouse cheerfully accepts the challenge of teaching the little monster how to behave like a proper Narnian knight while Lucy and Edmund learn why Caspian has taken the Dawn Treader out to sea.

Caspian is seeking the seven Lost Lords who disappeared during the reign of his Uncle Miraz. He has heard they fled for the Far Islands and wants to ask them to return now that he has brought peace to Narnia. What they find on the first island is most unsettling; the inhabitants are being sold into slavery to a malevolent dark mist from the Dark Isle. This mist threatens the Dawn Treader’s crew by unlocking their areas of temptation, and threatening their lives. It doesn’t take much temptation to waylay cantankerous Eustace, who easily succumbs to greed and finds himself transformed into a miserable, fire-breathing dragon. Will supercilious Eustace be able to accept help from Aslan? Will Lucy and Edmund allow their weaknesses to overcome their mission to reunite the seven swords of the Lost Lords? The Voyage of the Dawn Treader will be their greatest trial to date.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader continues the theme we encountered in Prince Caspian where Aslan is an omniscient guiding presence, like the Holy Spirit who counsels, convicts and heals the sinner overtaken by temptation. Yet Voyage of the Dawn Treader does so with more conviction than Prince Caspian, and this will delight not only Lewis fans, but the Christian audience who are experiencing the stories for the first time on screen. Lewis himself considered this to be the most spiritual of his books, and Walden Media has leaned the lesson of downplaying the spiritual underpinning of Prince Caspian which was far less popular than the smashingly successful The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This film remains true to the idea that fortitude of Lewis’ characters lies not in their own moral perfection but their reliance on the guidance of Aslan. The Narnia series has regained its spiritual heart, and audiences will be moved by the transformation of even the scaly Eustace into a young man of courage.

This is a film which will resonate deeply with Catholic sensibilities as deeply as The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. The main complaint which Catholics had with Prince Caspian was the downplaying of Aslan’s role, cutting out much of his role, as Lucy is the only one who is guided by him.  In Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the themes of individuals capitulating to their temptations will be familiar to Catholics, as well as the image of the royal meal (another reference to the Mass?), and the heavenly lady in blue who guides Narnians to victory over evil. Could this be a reference to the Blessed Virgin? Certainly the theme of chivalry throughout the series is drawn from medieval romances of Christendom.  The final scene in which Reepacheep's views heaven as the culmination of his service for Aslan is something which will inspire Catholic audiences. The spiritual content is what lifts a pure fantasy based on Homer’s Odyessy into the realm of allegory of the Christian life.

Fantasy involves extremes of good and evil, heroes and villains. In our politically correct society, where you cannot label anyone an enemy with the possible exception of drug dealers. fantasy provides a vehicle to express the battle between good and evil in all its violent glory. Children have dire need of true heroes, and the behavior of sports figures, actors and singers are blatantly immoral, so they fail to inspire the best in children's imaginations. Children need to live out their fantasies of what they will achieve in adulthood in an imaginary perfect world, where goodness triumphs and evil meets its just end. Good literary fantasy provides this vehicle. 

An attempt to modernize the concept of womanhood in Prince Caspian was not appreciated by book fans. Lewis was aware of the masculine tendencies of modern feminism and roundly rejected them.  Narnians did not consider Lucy and Susan any less valiant than their brothers who did the lions share of the fighting. After all, they had the courage to accompany Aslan throughout his torture and death, and were rewarded by being present at his resurrection. In Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lucy is tempted by the desire to be as beautiful as she sees her sister Susan, and Aslan tenderly reminds her that she is beautiful as herself. This is an important lesson for girls today who are bombarded with images of artificially created beauty. Voyage of the Dawn Treader will rival The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for the role of favorite film in the Narnia series. Perhaps this rivalry will be settled when The Silver Chair is released, as the success I predict for this film will certainly encourage a sequel. Walden has made a good match with 20th Century Fox and Lewis’ nephew Doug Gresham, an advisor to The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, roundly approves of this film and assures us that Lewis would as well.

This film is available in 3D and would be very frightening for younger children; there is a vivid sea monster and frightening, dark images. No suggestive scenes or bad language. Highly recommended for audiences seven and up. 

"Little Star" by Anthony DeStefano: A Picture Book Review

If you are looking for an original, Christ-centered Christmas picture book, then “Little Star” by Anthony DeStefano might just be the one for you.

A little boy is looking out his window for the Christmas star and his father tells him why he cannot see it in the sky. He tells the tale of a little star who is often overlooked by the bigger stars. They are all talking about the upcoming birth of Jesus. When the great event occurs, the little star puts forth all of his energy to cast light upon the infant Jesus to keep the baby warm and help others to find Him. He burns himself out in the process, but is remembered forever for his place in history.

You can look at this book at many levels. Behind the story in the forefront lies a loving relationship between father and son. Parents who have been sharing the lives of the Saints with their children might also want to talk about the way the little star gave his life for Jesus as did many of the Saints. Children can also be invited to discuss bullying (as displayed by the bigger stars) and using their little talents to glorify God in their own ways.

“My goal was to try to encapsulate the whole gospel message in a simple Christmas story,” said DeStefano. This he has done, and has received rave reviews on and elsewhere.

A few months ago DeStefano’s first children’s book was published - This Little Prayer of Mine. He has also written a couple of bestselling non-fiction books — A Travel Guide to Heaven, and Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To — both published by Doubleday. You Tube has a video of Pat Boone reading the new book to a group of children.

With realistic, colorful illustrations of the humans in the story mixed in with the fanciful cartoons of Little Star, Mark Elliott has captured the meaning of the story in a way that will be easily understood by children. My own four-year-old was a little scared of the pictures for some reason, but that is for you decide if you think the paintings will appeal to your children or not.

The author sent me his book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Everything Old Is New Again: Reviewing This Tremendous Lover

This is one of the most practical, down to earth books I have ever read about living one's Catholic faith in everyday life. Written by M. Eugene Boylan, a Trappist Monk, around 1945, "This Tremendous Lover" is actually a more timeless book than one might think. Human nature does not change from age to age and 1945 is not actually that long ago. Boylan clearly had practical experience in helping people look past their hectic lives in a culture often at odds with God. His insightful, accessible book gives straight forward advice on how to proceed toward holiness.

It is probably no surprise that Boylan always comes back to a few key points: knowing Jesus Christ in a personal relationship, turning away from pride, and embracing humility. He discusses seeking Christ through prayer, reading, in the sacraments, in conversation, and through our neighbor. He delves deeply into what it means to be a member of the body of Christ.

Because of its age, this book does have a few outdated assumptions that surface occasionally. For example, Boylan assumes that he must convince the ordinary person that their vocation is just as valid for seeking a deep experience with God as that of a priest or religious. That concept is one that we are all familiar with today, post-Vatican II, but at the time of original publication the point would have been very valid.

In the chapter about marriage and holiness, Boylan points out that the intimacies of married life are holy. Again, this is something that is nowadays taken to be a given and so might seem quaint as a reassurance. However, and this is an important point, even when the original assumption might seem old fashioned, Boylan's underlying theory remains sound. If one agrees to set aside prejudice against an attitude that might not agree with the way everyone thinks today, then the reader will discover a wealth of truth lying just beneath the surface for the taking. In continuing his discussion of married intimacies, Boylan says:
Let us once and for all get rid too of the notion, so harmful to the spiritual life, so heretical in its origin, and so widespread today, that there is anything intrinsically wrong in pleasure as such. God forbid! God made pleasure; man made pain. god share the pleasure of His creatures. All pleasure that is not inordinate, no matter how intense it is, can be offered to God. What is lawfully done to one's neighbor or to one's self is done to Christ. ... It is only when pleasure becomes inordinate—that is contrary to the will of God—that it is wrong. And no one can live without some pleasure, just as no one can live without some food and some rest.

Love demands expression, and love is nourished by expression, and that is true even of the most spiritual love. And the love of a man for his wife is a unique love and demands a unique expression, and God has provided an unique expression for it and has attached intense pleasure to it. And God has gone further still. For He has arranged that by that very act of expressing their love for one another, husband and wife become partners with Him in the work of producing a new creature. ...
This is the solid advice of a good theologian and a practical man. Surely this would have been very reassuring to those who read it when it was originally published. Just as certainly, in modern times it is beautiful to read such an outright declaration of the purpose of marital love and fidelity.

Time after time, Boylan gives practical advice that is elevated by a desire for his readers to find a deeper union with Christ. It is a challenge for any of us to fully live our lives seeking to follow in Christ's footsteps and learning to love him. With M. Eugene Boylan's help, we have a much better chance of finding the way with fewer missteps. Highest recommendation.

I received this book from Aquinas and More Catholic Bookstore.

Review of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

We are experiencing technical difficulties on this site, for Leticia's review of TheVoyage of the Dawn Treader, go to her blog Causa Nostrae Laetitiae

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Movie Review: The Gift of Love

This children's DVD features the Nativity story, the story of Jesus' birth, told with art work rather than animation. This is a unique approach to storytelling; rather than just "sit back and be entertained", it encourages kids to engage in drawing for themselves.  How do they do that?  By using the bonus features, which include art lessons.  

An entertaining and  unique DVD for kids, especially for the Christmas season

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Book Review: "Holding on to Hope"

Holding on to Hope: The Journey Beyond Darkness
by Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP
with Healing Exercises by Helene Cote, PM
Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 2010

As someone who has suffered from depression for many years, I was excited to get my hands on a copy of “Holding on to Hope: The Journey Beyond Darkness” by Sr. Kathryn J. Hermes. It is a follow-up to her best-selling book “Surviving Depression” which resonated with so many. “Holding on to Hope” is the next step in the journey. Rather than merely making our way through the darkness, it “is about learning to be receptive to God connecting with us do that God can indeed heal us – heal us, I repeat, not cure us – of depression or erase the sorrows of failure or restore lost loves.”

Each chapter in the book includes several elements designed to provide healing for mind, body, soul, and spirit. These include Images, which are stories of interactions with God; Scripture References, “the divine element of the healing plan;” reflection questions for personal or small group use; Contemplative Exercises; Resting, which invites us to “rest” in God’s word and allow God to do His healing work in us; and Inner Healing Exercises (written by Sr. Helene Cote) which “offers truly helpful and powerful ways to integrate the topic of the chapter into your everyday life. Those who enjoy meditation will love this book. There are many beautiful guided imagery exercises designed to engage the reader with God’s Word.

“Holding on to Hope” is meant to be used over a long period of time, perhaps in conjunction with a spiritual director. Despite how much we might want it to be the case, very few people are healed of long-standing pain in a short period of time. It is a process. One particular poignant reflection is on the words of Jesus, “Do you want to get well?” (Jn 5:6). Sometimes we are so stuck in our pain we can’t even hear Jesus asking us that question or allow Him to come into our hearts to do the work that needs to be done. What is wonderful about Hermes’ reflections is that she, too, has been in that darkness. One can relate deeply to her experience and learn from it.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Holding on to Hope. They are also a great source for first communion gifts and Baptism Gifts.

Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Ahead of new Narnia movie, actor’s comments on Aslan cause controversy

Actor Liam Neeson, the voice of the lion Aslan in the latest Narnia film, has drawn criticism for saying the character is a Christ-like figure who also symbolizes other spiritual leaders.

Aslan is a character in all seven Narnia books by the British Christian writer C.S. Lewis. In the climax of the first book “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” Aslan sacrifices his life to save Narnia before rising from the dead.

Speaking ahead of the upcoming release of the Narnia movie “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” Neeson said: “Aslan symbolizes a Christ-like figure but he also symbolizes for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries.

“That’s who Aslan stands for as well as a mentor figure for kids – that’s what he means for me.”

The 58-year-old Neeson is a practicing Catholic who grew up in Northern Ireland and was named after his parish priest, the Daily Telegraph reports. The actor has also collaborated with American Catholic priests to produce a CD of Lenten spiritual meditations.

Walter Hooper, Lewis’ former secretary and a trustee of his estate, said that C.S. Lewis would have been outraged by the claim.

LIam Neeson goes PC on Narnia

No one with any knowledge of either CS Lewis, the great Christian apologist, or his work would make such a ridiculous claim.
 Liam Neeson, the practicing Catholic who plays Aslan in the Narnia series said, "
 “Aslan symbolizes a Christ-like figure but he also symbolizes for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries. That’s who Aslan stands for as well as a mentor figure for kids – that’s what he means for me.”
What other religious leader gave his life for a sinner, was killed and resurrected to establish his Kingdom on earth with Peter as its leader?
This point of view has been roundly denounced by those who knew Lewis. A qupte in The Telegraph confirms this.
"Walter Hooper, Lewis’ former secretary and a trustee of his estate, said that C.S. Lewis would have been outraged by the claim.
“It is nothing whatever to do with Islam,” Hooper told the Telegraph. “Lewis would have simply denied that.He wrote that the ‘whole Narnian story is about Christ.’ Lewis could not have been clearer"
Stop playing games with Lewis' intention, with your brand of moral relativism, Mr Neeson, and stick to acting!
I will post my review of "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" here at mignight on Friday, opening day.
Read the entire story on Planet Catholic. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Better to See the Pope With: Reviewing "The Light of the World"

... We are sinners. But we should not take the failure to live up to this high moral standard as an authoritative objection to the truth. We should try to do as much good as we can and to support and put up with each other. ...

I remember reading Salt of the Earth, Seewald's first book of interviews with the Pope when he was Cardinal Ratzinger. At the time I was impressed by the straight forward honesty, clear sight, and mixture of common sense with intellectualism that characterized Cardinal Ratzinger. This is in spite of the fact that I am not fond of reading about question and answer questions or interviews in general. Because of that previous good experience, I jumped at a chance to read a review copy of Seewald's latest interview with Pope Benedict, Light of the World, although I really wasn't sure what sort of topics might be covered.

As most people know by now, Light of the World covers questions about modern times including, but not limited to, the sex scandals, relativism, the Church and Islam, ecumenism, global warming, contraception, AIDS, women priests, homosexuality, and relativism. In other words, if there has been bad press about it lately, Seewald asked about it.

The Holy Father gives honest and candid answers. If any reader ever wanted to ask the Pope questions ripped from the headlines, then this is just the book for them. More than anything I was impressed with the Pope's realism. He answered in a way that let us know he is completely aware of what people think about various issues for the most part. As he continually pointed out, he does not exist in a vacuum, and has meetings every day with people from around the world.

I was also impressed with Pope Benedict's thoroughness and balance when discussing issues. When faced with questions about negatives  he would usually end by gently reminding Seewald that there is much good about the Church that is not taken into consideration for just one topic. Conversely, when Seewald was praising the Church highly, the Pope rarely failed to point out others who deserved much credit or that the Church could do with improvement in various areas. All round, we see a well-balanced, thoughtful man who is thoroughly down to earth.

... Pastoral care, for its part, has to seek ways of staying close to individuals and of helping them, even in, shall we say, their irregular situation, to believe in Christ as the Savior, to believe in his goodness, because he is always there for them, even though they cannot receive communion. And of helping them to remain in the Church, even though their situation is canonically irregular. Pastoral care has to help them accept that, yes, I  do not live up to what I should as a Christian, but I do not cease to be a Christian, to be loved by Christ, and the more I remain in the Church, the more I am sustained by him.

Unfortunately, I was fairly disinterested in the topics which comprised the first two-thirds of the book. Perhaps this is because I have read enough of John Allen's commentary, GetReligion's analysis of bad news reporting, and Sandro Magister's reporting/analysis that I was not seeing much new information, other than to round out my impressions of Pope Benedict. Although the Pope's insights were interesting to a degree, once one absorbs a few key outlooks, then one sees them repeated for different topics. This is as it should be, of course, as we don't want someone who is capricious in attitude.

However, I was much more taken with the last third of the book which dealt with more general questions of life and faith. Again, this is simply where my interests lie. When the issues were raised about more general everyday issues like contraception, marriage after divorce, and whether the Pope believes what he believed as a child then I was captivated by the Pope's humanity, warmth, and honesty. Also, I was impressed that sometimes he simply admitted he didn't have an answer for a problem. Too, I admired him for saying that he knew he didn't have the capacity to be Pope. That he had to let Jesus lead him because God was the only one who could fill such an overwhelming role. These were all qualities seen in the first part of the book as well, but it was here that they struck me with the most force.

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in seeing more of the Pope's nature, of hearing his direct answers to the tough questions of modern times, and for his thoughts on how to handle everyday issues. There were many answers that I mentally marked, thinking that those were approaches which I would try to reflect when asked questions about the Church. The things that I didn't warm to were only reflections of my own interests and not of the openness and excellence of this book ... which I recommend unreservedly.

So there are by nature many issues in which, so to speak, morality suits modernity. The modern world, after all, is not built solely out of the negative. If that were the case, it could not exist for long. It bears within itself great moral values, which also come precisely from Christianity, which through Christianity first emerged as values in the consciousness of mankind. Where they are supported—and they must be supported by the Pope—there is agreement in broad areas. We are happy about that. But that cannot blind us to the fact that there are other issues that cause controversy.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas is a Time for Second Chances: Reviewing The Boys Upstairs

"Yeah, you've certainly changed." Kevin shoved aside his empty plate. "I remember when you would have been the kid bringing the knife into the church."

"Would you rather I spent the rest of my life in jail?"

"That's not what I would have rather had at all, and you know it."

Jay opened his hands. "You don't get it both ways. The thing that saved my conscience was the same thing that saved my soul."

Kevin shook his head.

"Please don't start this again," Jay said. "You know I can't stand it."

"I've told you I accept you the way that you are."

"You say that as though I have a disease." Jay looked at his lap. "I love you from the bottom of my heart, and I pray for you every day. I want nothing but good for you—and in return, you'll tolerate me. Like I'm an aged flatulent uncle you visit once a week for the sake of your long-dead grandmother."
Jay Farrell is a priest with overwhelming responsibilities and very few resources. He houses homeless boys in his rectory, runs a soup kitchen, and ministers to an inner-city parish. He is no stranger to overcoming big odds, but one of the most troubling obstacles is in his personal life.

Jay's brother, Kevin, is a cop who has seen so much evil that he's stopped believing in God and hasn't spoken to Jay for a long time. When Kevin stops by Jay's rectory to drop off three more needy children, it puts them in contact on a continuing basis as they must work together to help provide food and clothing for the newcomers.

Those are far from being the only problems which need solving. Nick's anger at the parents who abandoned him makes him lash out in anger at the other homeless boys. Holly is barely getting by on her waitress salary and has given up on ever finding love. The three children who are dropped off with Father Jay are trying to find a way to stay together instead of being split up into separate foster homes.

Although these are not the sorts of situations that I would normally choose to read about, I found myself being drawn into this novella through the characters' motivations and back stories. In uncovering what happened to Jay in Iraq, watching Holly's defense of a fellow waitress, watching for changes in Nick that would echo those we are told took place in another boy, and in wondering what is haunting Kevin about a simple memory of a lit front porch, I was pulled into a world with characters I wanted to know better.

Since this is ultimately a book about free will, second chances, and faith, I was quite interested in Lebak's handling of touchy conversations that echoed the sorts of situations we might face in real life. A confrontation with a family who uses God to dodge out of paying a bill and Kevin and Jay's struggles were absorbing without seeming preachy or out of place.

I also liked very much the honesty the priest shows with the children when they ask about his past. It is not only what they need to evaluate their situation and the choices they contemplate, but also an insight into the priest's ability to work with the children that have found their way into his care. Lebak made a gutsy choice in showing this good man taking care of these homeless kids. Many would think of  the recent sex scandals and choose a different plot. Seeing Jay caring for these children is a reminder that most priests are good men who want nothing more than to honorably minister to those in their care.

I enjoyed Lebak's previous novel, Seven Archangels: Annihilation, but I found that her writing style in this work flowed much more naturally. I especially liked the fact that she didn't tell us everything about what each character was thinking which left some areas open for further reflection, such as the very brief comments that Kevin receives which become a turning point in his thinking.

The downside is that this is only novella length, about 100 pages. It is crammed with plot points that have to be resolved in a fairly short time. Sometimes this resulted in important ideas being hashed out in a couple of pages of pointed conversation which would have been more naturally conveyed if the author had had the luxury of more pages to spread things out in. Also, there are some characters that it would have been nice to have more background on. For example, Mrs. D. is someone who I would have liked to know more about than we were told, especially given the important resolution she helps with at one point in the book. I realize these criticisms seem like a direct contradiction to my appreciation for the openness I praised in the previous paragraph but these are not moments of subtlety but of skimming over details for lack of space.

I definitely recommend this novella.  I would really like it if Jane Lebak wrote another book about these characters but took more time to ... breathe ... while doing so. I enjoyed what she wrote but want more of it. I could see this novella being the launching pad for a book or two along the lines of Jan Karon's Father Tim books but without the treacly sweetness and with more Catholic down-to-earth hardheadedness. C'mon Jane. Give us more!

The book comes out tomorrow, December 3. Go get it and get a discount until December 10 from the publisher.
"Get 25% off any purchase from today until December 10th.
Use code: HC2010D at checkout in the discount code box before going to Paypal."

That makes it $3.38 Canadian.