A writer never goes on hiatus from reading! Between the Catholic Writers Conference Live, the World Meeting of Families, and assorted review copies coming my way, I have a ton of books to share with you, mes amis!
The Sweetest Rain by Myra Johnson
As the drought of 1930 burns crops to a crisp, Bryony Linwood dreams of cooling winter snows and the life she would have had if Daddy hadn’t been killed in the Great War and Mama hadn’t moved Bryony and her sisters to their grandfather’s struggling tenant farm in tiny Eden, Arkansas. Now Mama’s gone, too, and as times grow tougher, Bryony will do whatever it takes to ensure her family’s survival.
Michael Heath barely survived the war, and twelve years later all he wants to do is forget. A virtual recluse, his one passion is botanical illustration. Lost in the diversity of nature’s beauty, he finds escape from a troubled past and from his wealthy father’s continual pressure to take an interest in the family plantation.
When Bryony accepts employment at the Heath mansion, it’s just a job at first, a means to ward off destitution until the drought ends and Grandpa’s farm is prosperous again. But Bryony’s forced optimism and dogged determination disguise a heart as dry and despairing as the scorched earth . . . until she discovers Michael Heath and his beautiful botanical illustrations. As their relationship deepens, friendship soon blossoms into healing for wounded souls and a love that can’t be denied.
Call this one another guilty pleasure without the guilt. The
older I get more sweet Catholic romances I read, the more I am being converted to the genre. By the way, when I say “sweet,” I don’t mean saccharine. I mean happy-ending-but-not-without-the-pain-of-rebirth sweet. Sweetest Rain has that plus real characters, believable conflict, and a historical period not often visited but done so in rich, lively detail. BTW, I had no discomfort leaving this one around for my 11 year-old First Shift to read, even though they don’t like romance. The elder member of First Shift finished it before I did (she does have more leisure reading time, but still). I enjoyed it, and I hope you will, too. It’s also refreshing to see a larger Catholic publisher taking on some commercial-style fiction for actual grownups, so if you want to support that kind of undertaking, Sweetest Rain is a valuable use of your time and cash.
The Little Douglings books by Carissa Douglas
I was lucky to meet the author at the World Meeting of Families. Little did I know at the time that perhaps in the very hour when I met Carissa Douglas and set about acquiring Little Douglings books from her, First Shift was at the youth congress, meeting another kid who said, “Yeah, I’m here because my mom’s upstairs selling books.” Catholic Writers’ Kids know how to find kindred spirits.
Anyway, all of us, young and old, enjoyed these three books. In each, we see the story of a Catholic family trying to live out the sacraments through the ups and downs of living in an imperfect work. However, because the Little Douglings choose to live the sacraments/teach each other how to live them, they make those ups and downs holy and fruitful in ways only sacramental living can.
Okay, for a second, ignore all the theology I just (uncharacteristically) poured into that mini-review. These books are fun-filled ways to introduce big topics, even Theology of the Body (see A Gift of Myself), to pretty much all ages. So without further ado…
I Go to Jesus
This book will encourage the little ones in your life (and adults too) to come to a fuller appreciation of Christ, truly present in the Holy Eucharist. Help remind them of His deep love for them and His desire to encounter them often through the gift of the Blessed Sacrament.
There’s really not much else to say other than I recommend this book for showing anyone of any age the value of the Eucharist.
A Gift of Myself
This one is the sweetest little intro to the Theology of the Body. Yes, it’s aimed at kids, but honestly, I know plenty of adults who could use this kind of intro. The author starts with family conflict and shows the peace that can be gained by thinking of others… and how the model of a marriage ordered both mentally and physically towards denying oneself for the sake of new life is the manifestation of that peace. Out of all three Douglings books so far, this one is my favorite.
All Things New
This latest addition to the Little Douglings series will help the little ones in your life come to a deeper understanding of God’s unfailing Mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
This would make an ideal gift for the little one in your life preparing for the Sacrament of Reconciliation or for any little one, especially during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. It’s an honest yet sweet look at what that sacrament does, why we need it, and why it’s worth the effort.
Easter Bunny’s Amazing Day by Carol Benoist & Cathy Gilmore
Meet the Risen Jesus with an amazing bunny―and his amazing tale―in this beautifully illustrated hardcover children’s book. Children will learn about Jesus’ friendship and comfort through the eyes of a timid bunny rabbit who experiences firsthand the love and joy Jesus brings. A new enhanced version will be available Easter 2014, and these first-edition copies are going fast! Easter Bunny’s Amazing Day is sure to be a family favorite every Easter.
I’m linking to Cathy Gilmore’s page, because she’s the author I got to meet at the Catholic Writers Conference. She’s a good egg, very enthusiastic about what she does, and so approachable.
Anyway, this book is so stinking adorable, and I’m not just talking the illustrations. The whole story is about a bunny who is scared of everything and about how God uses those fears to give the frightened bunny something, well, amazing. Yes, this is a great book to prepare kids for the celebration of the Resurrection at Easter. Yes, this is a great book to read during the last weeks of Lent (which, btw, will be here before you know it, so don’t slack, my friends). However, this book has surprising year-round value, because it shows children (especially kids with many youthful fears, ahem, Second Shift of Kid) how God can work through our fears to give us great gifts. In fact, that’s a good message for parents of timid children as well. HIGHLY recommended.
Last but most certainly not least…
The Living Water Series by Stephanie Landsem
For the Samaritan women of Sychar, the well is a place of blessing—except for Mara, whose family has been shunned for the many sins of her mother, Nava. But will their encounter with two men—a mysterious young man from Caesarea named Shem and a Jewish teacher called Jesus—change their lives forever?
Packed with heart-wrenching emotion and many, many surprising twists, The Well pulled my heartstrings in so many directions… and that’s what makes me downright love a book. This is another “wish Amazon had six stars to give” kind of book. Warning: I read it on a Sunday (yes, in one day) without removing my churchgoing eye makeup, and when I finally closed the book, I looked like The Winter Soldier. Or a tall, plump racoon. Either way, this book needs a Five Tissue Warning but will leave your heart soaring with delight over how God can turn mess into message.
A Roman centurion longing for peace and a Jewish woman hiding a deadly secret witness a miracle that transforms their lives and leads them to the foot of the cross.
In The Thief, Stephanie Landsem does it again with a tough but vulnerable female protagonist, impossible situations, unbelievable hope, and the all-powerful touch of Christ on the pages of human history, of personal history. The edgy, risky prose makes the relationships in The Thief come alive and make the reader’s heart pound for them with each new plot twist, break for them at each agony, and cheer for them with each narrow escape. I highly recommend this fresh take on the story of the Good Thief and the Centurion at the foot of the cross.
Whew! I thought I’d never get all that out there! However, see how I got the reviews out there without needing to write books about each book? As I reflected in my December EMC Reader Newsletter, leaving a book review covers several Spiritual Works of Mercy. No, I’m not being self-serving in saying so. With one book review, can you counsel the doubtful, admonish the sinner, instruct the ignorant, comfort the afflicted, even bear wrongs patiently? I think so. I aim to chat about that in another post in the near future, as time permits.
BTW, I can probably make this a…
How’s your Christmas season going? Did you get an Amazon gift card? Did you already spend part of it on the It’s Still Christmas Sale? Please consider spending some more of it on any or all of the above books! Have something else to recommend? Comment away!