Category Archives: Mmmm …. books

“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….

Stressed or not, a mom’s just gotta read

Busy as I am, I always find time for books.  Here are some of the highlights of the last two months (or however long it’s been since I did my last book pile post?).

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The St. Teresa of Avila Prayer Book.  First of all, how gorgeous is this cover?   I just want to eat it up. If the cover hadn’t hooked me, the author sure would; this book is by Vinita Hampton Wright, my editor and friend, whose books on spirituality are always edifying.  And the subject is the spirituality of St. Teresa of Avila, the fascinating Spanish saint who was a steely reformer with a mystic side.  This wonderful little book offers a biography of the saint, as well as information about her spiritual influences, but the core of the book is a week of morning and evening prayers centered around topics close to St. Teresa’s heart (“God With Us,” “Always Humility,” “Patience in Our Prayer.”)  Each day offers “prayer liturgies” made up of St. Teresa’s own writings, as well as Gospel readings, psalms, a prayer by a saint whom Teresa herself would likely have known, all arranged around the topic for the day.  It’s a wonderful approach that highlights the saint’s unique spirituality while still showing how her prayers centered on universal Christian themes.  (Thanks to Paraclete Press for the review copy.)

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There are not a lot of authors whose books I’ll buy in hardcover, but Kate Morton happens to be one of them.  The Lake House has many of the same delicious ingredients as her other novels: an evocative English setting, a fluid movement between past and present, a mystery that unfolds gradually, a wonderful sense of atmosphere.  This one, interestingly, took me a little longer to get into than her others — why, I’m not sure — but once it got spinning I was hooked, and it reached a most satisfying conclusion.   It’s a great book for that rainy or snowy weekend where you just want to block out the world and read.

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Heather King is a terrific writer, and her new book — Stripped: At the Intersection of Cancer, Culture, and Christ – is a darn good read.  She writes about her experience navigating the terrifying diagnosis of breast cancer (as well as how it fits with her Catholic spirituality) with laser-like insight and humor.  This is a book that raises so many big questions about suffering and healing and hope, and as someone who (like many of us) has seen friends and family members dealing with cancer, I appreciated King’s frankness and vulnerability.   Whether or not cancer is currently a part of your life or the life of someone you love, this book is worth reading for the way that King wrestles with the most essential questions about our bodies and our souls.

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The decorative endpapers for Vain Shadow (all Persephone books have a plain gray cover and unique endpapers … just one of the things that makes this publisher so special.)

Persephone Books, the marvelous British publishing house that revives “forgotten classics,” has another winner with the book Vain Shadow by Jane Hervey.  First published in  1963, it tells the story of a family gathered at an English country home for the death of the patriarch.  Following the old man’s demise, the family dynamics begin to reveal themselves, and the various layers of conflict in the family make for engrossing reading.  It’s not a book with a lot of action, but it is a book with well-drawn characters, flashes of dark humor, and utterly realistic human drama, if you like that sort of thing (and I sure do).

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Did you know that Christopher Plummer loathed the part of Captain von Trapp?  Were you aware that a massive part of the movie’s success belongs to the  screenwriter, Ernest Lehman?  Did you know that the reason the Mother Abbess has her back to Maria when she sings “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” is because the director felt it would be too corny for her to be singing it right in Maria’s face?  (good call).  All this and more is revealed in the book   The Sound of Music Story, which is extraordinarily detailed and recommended for the movie’s diehard fans.  I guess I can come clean here and admit that I’m one of them.

What are you reading?  Do tell!

Coming spring of next year … a new book!

 

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Think back over the last twenty-four hours.  Where and how did you encounter God’s goodness?

Odds are good your answer sounds something like this:

*I saw God in the morning sunrise
*I heard God in the voices of my kids at play
*I smelled God in the honeysuckle in the neighbor’s yard
*I touched God in the healing warmth of a friend’s hug
*I tasted God in that cup of dark delicious coffee

The last few years, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the role that the senses play in my spiritual life.  I’ve realized that my daily experiences of God end up reading a lot like the list above.  I’ve learned that faith is not purely an abstract, intellectual thing; it’s a full-body experience.  I’ve discovered that God reaches out to us through the language we know best: the language of the senses.  And I’ve realized that my Catholic faith, with all its stained glass and rosaries and music and smells and bells, has me by the heart for precisely this reason.

And I turned all of these thoughts into a book!  It’s called Taste and See: Experiencing the Goodness of God with Our Five Senses, and it will be published next spring by Loyola Press (insert happy dance here).

I’m really excited about this book.  It was hugely rewarding to write, and I hope it’ll be just as rewarding to read.  It’s divided into five sections, one for each sense, and it looks at the various ways that God speaks to us through that sense.  Some are everyday, universal experiences, like hearing a friend’s voice or holding a loved one; some are specifically Catholic, like praying with a rosary or partaking of the Eucharist. There are prayer exercises for each chapter, too, if you’re the praying type (and if you’re reading this blog, I have a feeling you are.)

May 1st is the official publication date, but it’s already on Amazon  and on Goodreads (if you want to add it to your Want-to-Read list, that would be more than okay by me).  And it has a hot-off-the-presses cover, which I just love.  (I joked with the Loyola folks that they should have a cover which incorporates the five senses — a musical chip, a scratch-n-sniff patch, a fuzzy spot à la Pat the Bunny – but the cover above isn’t bad as an alternative.)

So that’s my big news!  I can’t wait to share the book with you all.  Only seven more months to wait….