Category Archives: Mmmm …. books

The Book Pile: Summer Vacation edition

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Well, Mr. Darcy, I’ve been doing a lot of extensive reading these days.  Summer vacation means that the time usually earmarked for grading gets repurposed for other, more enjoyable pursuits, such as cracking open a good book.  Here are a few of the ones I’ve enjoyed lately.

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The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

This one started off at a very leisurely pace, sort of like a summer afternoon …. so leisurely that at first, I wondered where the book’s sense of urgency was. But I kept going, and before long, the story and characters had me hooked.  Read this to immerse yourself into life in a small  English town at the time of WWI.

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East Lynne by Mrs. Henry Wood

Sometimes you just want to dive into a thick Victorian saga.  When I’m in that sort of mood, I usually go for something by Wilkie Collins (try The Woman in White if you’ve never read him before).  This time I tried East Lynne, which has all the expected components: English country houses, unsolved crimes, hidden identities, unprincipled rakes, women in a swoon.  Great fun.

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The Devil’s Advocate by Morris West

What makes a saint?  What is the definition of “holy”?  This was a very different sort of novel, about a dying priest who is sent to a small remote Italian village to investigate the life of a dead man who is being called a saint by many.  Each of the people in the village has his/her own memories of the deceased, as well as his/her own motivation for wanting the investigation to proceed in a certain way.  It raised good ethical questions, and provided a lot of food for thought.  If you liked Graham Greene, you  might enjoy this one.

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Kingfishers Catch Fire by Rumer Godden

Rumer Godden was an Englishwoman who spent a lot of her early life in India, and this novel is apparently heavily drawn from her own experiences.  It’s the story of a well-meaning English widow with two children who decides to go live in a remote village in Kashmir, seeing it as a sort of Eden in the mountains.  Her optimistic naivete and her inability to honor (or even to perceive) the cultural differences between her family and the villagers leads to conflict and, ultimately, a near-tragedy.  I’d call it required reading for anyone going to live in a different culture, whichever culture it is, because it’s a case study of how even a well-meaning person can really mess it up.  And Godden’s prose is, as always, breathtaking.  This was my favorite of the summer so far.

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Why Bother Praying? by Richard Leonard, S.J.

I heard Fr. Leonard speak at LA Congress last year, and he was wonderful.  I happened to pick this up at a retreat center a while back, and it’s a very engaging book about the many effects of prayer.  There’s wonderful wisdom in here, along with a bunch of memorable personal anecdotes (some of them hilarious) that really ground the book and make it speak not just to the head, but to the heart.

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Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

This was the perfect book to take a long cross-country flight.  The effortless narrative voice and the engaging plot (it’s about a young woman at a professional dead-end who takes a job as a companion to a quadriplegic) all made for a very fast six hours.  That said, I’d have given the book a different ending — if you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean — but still, it was an excellent summer read and I can safely say that Moyes has a new fan (and, as my younger son pointed out, only one letter separates her last name from mine.  I love how kids notice these things.)

What are you reading now?  Do tell!

 

A rose is a rose is a rose …

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Sometimes I wonder which phrases my kids will associate with me in years to come.  Which sayings do I repeat over and over?  I’d guess “Be careful!” and “Did you remember to flush?” are two of the most common ones.  I hope, though, that “Look at those roses!” is right behind.

I’m a rose junkie.  An entire chapter of Taste and See is devoted to them, not just because they offer such beautiful sensory experiences but because they invite me to think about how humans can co-create beauty with God. (We humans are the ones who have hybridized and come up with all these different marvelously colorful varieties, tapping into the Creator’s artistic genius.) So now that it’s summer and rose season is in full bloom, I thought I’d share a little visual complement to that chapter and share some of the glorious beauties I’ve come across lately.  (No, these aren’t from my yard – though I wish they were!).

Let’s start with red:

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Pink more your speed?  There are no lack of those, either.

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I know the Yellow Rose of Texas has its own song, but the Yellow Roses of California are pretty nice, too:

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Purple isn’t the color I naturally associate with roses, but they are striking as well.

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White has its own purity and grace:

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And I love this one, too — sort of peach, sort of yellow:

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Where are you seeing beauty lately?

“Taste and See” has arrived!

Thus far, my week of spring break is notable for two reasons, one bad and one good:

1) I came down with the worst cold I’ve had in at least five years

2) My new book is here!

The good news is that #2 is so exciting it even makes up for for #1 (and, given the awfulness of this cold, that’s saying a lot).  The box of books from my publisher arrived on Monday afternoon, and I had to wait until last night to open it (Scott was out of town, and I wanted him to share in the big unveiling).  It was hard, I tell you: it was kind of like those kids and the marshmallows in the classic psychological experiment.  I had to draw on reserves of willpower that I haven’t used in a while.

But at last he came home and at the first opportunity I dove into the box.

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And here it is!

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I had seen the cover before in a digital format, but there is nothing like seeing the real thing.  It’s so pretty; the colors just pop.  (I love that Loyola Press design team – they are so insanely gifted.)

Front cover (I am never far from Kleenex these days)

Front cover (I am never far from Kleenex these days)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The design of the back cover is gorgeous too ... I love the circles.

The design of the back cover is gorgeous too … I love the circles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As is fitting for a book about the senses, I immediately opened it and breathed in the marvelous new-book smell, gulping it down like oxygen. (I will try that again when the cold is gone — not sure I got the full effect through my congestion).

So it’s here in three dimensions, this book that has meant so much to me.  In a lot of ways, it’s the book I’ve been wanting to write my entire adult life.  Now it goes out into the world where it will hopefully entertain and encourage others.

Starting with Scott.

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Review of “Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter” (which turns out to be a pretty good guide for Mom, too)

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Every year, about the midpoint of Lent, I realize that I’ve once again managed to get too busy to engage with it as fully as I’d like.  That’s when it’s good to have a little “Lenten reset,” to pause for bit to remember what this season is really all about.

This year, interestingly enough, a children’s book has helped me refocus.  Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter is a picture book that I have shared with my kids, but which has also nudged me to remember what the Lenten season is really all about.

This is a beautifully-written book.  Laura Alary packs a lot of important ideas into few words, written in a simple style that can easily reach kids (and their stressed-out moms).  “This is the season of Lent.  The church is dressed in purple,” it says on the first page.  I love how she starts with that; color matters, and kids notice it.  She returns to color elsewhere in the book (my kids loved tracking all the color references), talking about how “Colors are like a different language we can all speak even when we have no words.”  The closet artist in me goes, YES!  Exactly!  I love helping kids see that purple is the language of Lent, just as other colors correspond to other seasons.

The body of the book is divided into three parts: Making Time, Making Space, and Making Room.  Alary does a succinct but effective job of explaining why and how each one is a goal worth having in Lent.  She shares not only how Jesus made time, space, and room in his own life, but also offers kids some concrete ideas for doing the same (cleaning your room and giving away some of your possessions; going up to someone who is standing alone and starting a conversation).   The text is accompanied by beautiful pictures by illustrator Ann Boyajian; they are both vivid and soft at the same time, and very inviting.

Something else that is lovely about the book is also how it works in metaphor and parable.  Alary works in references to many of Jesus’ stories, and makes observations like “[Jesus] pours himself out like water from a pitcher.  He touches what is dirty and hurting and makes it clean and whole,” which is a powerful way for kids to understand the symbolism of so many Bible stories and church rituals.

As I look at my own busy life, with work and grocery shopping and Little League practice and staff meetings, I often think that I don’t have time or space or room for anything more.  But that’s not actually true.  If Lent does anything for me, it helps me be more intentional about where I do have time, and what I can cut to make more room and space for God.  I guess it’s a sign of my humanity that I am always hungry to be reminded of that.  I love how this year, the reminder came in the form of this gem of a picture book.

Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter is available through Paraclete Press and Amazon.com.  Many thanks to Paraclete for the review copy, which is one we’ll return to year after year.

Sneak peek inside “Dear Pope Francis”

There is a new book coming out next month that I’m really excited to see.

It’s Dear Pope Francis.

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In this book, you will find the letters and artwork of thirty kids around the world, who wrote to Pope Francis to ask their most pressing questions about life and faith.  The book also includes the pope’s personal responses to each letter.

I love everything about this concept: kids asking questions, faith, handwritten letters, children’s artwork, and the Pope.  (I’m a bit of a Francis fan.)  And I can’t wait to see and hold the book myself when it comes out.

But until then, I’m honored to offer a little preview. Thanks to my good friends at Loyola Press, I’ve been able to get a sneak peek at a few of the letters and responses.  Even better, I get to share them with you!

Here’s one from a girl from Poland:
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And here’s what the Pope said in response:

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Here’s another question, this one on a more serious note:

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And leave it to the pope to write a great response to a tough question:

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It looks like a fabulous book.  I’m thrilled to get this preview and I can’t wait to read the whole thing.  I have a feeling I’m going to learn a few things from these questions and answers. (And what a great gift for a First Communion!).

You can find out more about Dear Pope Francis here (there’s even a book trailer).  And who knows?  Maybe there will be a sequel, built around letters from adults.  I’ll start getting my list of questions ready….