Book Review

Books in Brief: Summer Reading

Has anyone read anything good this summer? Today I’ll highlight a few I’ve enjoyed.

The Quest for Shakespeare: The Bard of Avon and the Church of Rome

by Joseph Pearce

I recently finished Joseph Pearce’s The Quest for Shakespeare from Ignatius Press. In this book, Pearce gives all the evidence for Shakespeare’s Catholicism. I’ve always wanted to read this book, since it was published in 2008, but I never got around to it until last week. As it turns out, I was missing out!

Did you know that Shakespeare’s father was a registered recusant Catholic? Or that Shakespeare was taught by Catholics and married by a Catholic priest? Think about that and remember it was verboten to be a Catholic in England at this time under the Great Persecutor, Queen Elizabeth.

Remember the great martyrs? St. Thomas More, St. John Fisher, St. Edmund Campion…among hundreds of others? If one wasn’t downright tortured for being Catholic, one was heavily fined for failing to attend Anglican services in the least. And guess how many Anglican services Shakespeare attended? None that we know of. And we know this because copious records were kept by the government for the express purpose of collecting fines to financially ruin Catholics.

I could go on with more interesting details, but you should just read it.

If you don’t want to take my word for it, here’s Peter Kreeft’s endorsement, “In this book, he [Pearce] proves it [Shakespeare’s Catholicism] historically. I mean proves it.” Or, perhaps you’d like Anthony Esolen’s words? “Pearce shows that Shakespeare himself was such a dutiful servant, ever dutiful to the Queen, but to God first. He does not leap to conclusions, but builds a case that is meticulous, reasonable, and convincing.”

The Quest for Shakespeare would be a great read for your high schoolers too.

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp

This is another one of those books that I’ve always been meaning to read, but never did, until two weeks ago. I don’t know about you, but I grew up watching Rodger and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music and loving it. (Naturally, as little girls, we shut the movie off after the wedding because the Nazi part was too scary.) I’m so glad I finally purchased the book and read about the real Trapp family.

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers was a sheer delight. There was much that the movie got right, and then, there was much that was left out too. Did you know that Maria and the Captain actually dined at a restaurant in Salzburg, sitting at a table near Hitler? (They were disgusted.) Or that after they fled to the United States, the infamous Heinrich Himmler–the main architect of the Holocaust– confiscated their estate and ruined their chapel?

Above all, I was impressed with the faith of this family. You, too, might find it inspiring. In the very least, the way in which Maria and Georg became engaged was downright sweet and comical. (The movie gets it wrong.)

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

I read this book a few years ago and had memories of laughing so hard, my sides ached. Naturally, I’d want to pick it up again, so I did.

Do you need a laugh? Do you come from a big family? Or have lots of children yourself? Then you’ll love this hilarious book.*

By the way, the book is way better than either the old movie or the new one. Both movies are a disgrace in comparison to the book.

The Catechism of the Council of Trent from Baronius Press

No, I did not read the whole catechism. Rather, my local book club, Rad Reads, read the section on marriage and then compared it to John Paul II’s catechism on marriage. It’s incredibly telling how different they are. We had lovely, heated discussions. We also read Pius XI’s 1930 encyclical, Casti Cannubii, which is also on marriage.

Now, if you want something interesting to read with your husband, pick up the Catechism of the Council of Trent, flip to the fifteen or so pages written specifically on the Sacrament of Marriage, and pour yourself a glass of wine. You won’t be disappointed.

What am I reading now?

I’m currently reading Nothing Superfluous by Rev. James Jackson, an FSSP priest, for my next Rad Reads discussion. This book details the theological meaning behind different actions and prayers of the Traditional Latin Mass. I’m really enjoying it so far.

I also hope to peruse another Dorothy Sayers detective fiction soon.

How about you?

*Note: I’d only recommend this book to a mature audience, as the older daughters tend to be worldly, etc. Also, unfortunately, there are problems with the Second Commandment.

Book Review

Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and SSPX

I just finished reading Bernard Tissier de Mallerais’s The Biography of Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the Society of St. Pius X.

I’ve always wanted to read this book, as I’ve always been interested in the origins and life of this infamous, traditional society. Call me crazy, but I admire their pluck and nerve. May God bless them all!

Since I wanted to read this MAMMOTH book, I thought, hey, why not invite others too? So, I gathered a group of curious ladies and away we went. (By the way, if you’ve ever been burning to read a book, but need motivation, get others to read it with you. It’s much more fun.)

TWO inches thick.

Did I mention that this book is HUGE and expensive? Due to its extreme FATNESS and excessive expense, some of us are sharing, myself included. This meant I had to read the book double-quick in order to pass it along.

One member of our group had the genius idea to simply call the local SSPX priory (is that what they’re called?) and ask for a cheaper copy. She got hers for $10 less at their bookstore, versus buying it online. Smart woman.

My hardcover copy. I paid an arm and a leg for it. Fortunately it was worth it.

This 642 page book was fascinating, even if it read a bit like a history book. It’s even got maps, charts, pictures, and footnotes along with important letters and documents in the back with a timeline, bibliography, and index. All very organized and thorough, just as one would expect from SSPXers.

Just What Is This Book About?

We began our book club discussion of Marcel Lefebvre with first reading a bit from a completely different book, Bishop Athanasius Schneider’s, Christus Vincit. Schneider has a whole chapter dedicated to the Society of St. Pius X, and we wanted a perspective from somebody we trusted in the Church.

Now, this is important, and read it slowly…the Society for St. Pius X is NOT in schism. I know this will shock some of you, but it’s true. Schneider says, “They are already in communion with the Church, since they recognize the current pope, mention him in the Canon, pray for him publicly, and pray for the local diocesan bishop. The SSPX has received faculties for absolution from the pope, and the priests of the SSPX may now obtain faculties from the diocesan bishop or from the parish priest canonically to assist at marriages…the members of the SSPX are not excommunicated.” (See page 149.)

This was important for us ladies to understand before diving into this fascinating history, which begins with Marcel’s parents in northern France and details his deeply Catholic upbringing, all the way through seminary, priesthood, missionary life in Africa, the second Vatican Council, the chaos which resulted from it, the birth of his priestly society, and then his death in a Swiss hospital.

Really, after reading it, I have more respect for those priests and religious who fought for tradition. Incidentally, and perhaps in spite of the text itself, I couldn’t help admiring Cardinal Ratzinger’s role in negotiating between Pope John Paul II and Lefebvre. What an undertaking!

Lefebvre met everybody, including Padre Pio. See upper left picture wherein Padre Pio kisses Lefebvre’s ring.

I don’t have time to summarize and analyze this immense book, however. I can only say, that if you’re curious about the second Vatican Council or those controversial ordinations in 1988 or anything else related to traditional things, take out a loan and buy the book.

Timely Mention

Lastly, I was reading our latest issue of The Remnant and lo and behold! On page 8, there’s an entire article on the importance of recognizing the role of SSPX in paving the way for other traditional groups like the Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) and the Institute of Christ the King (ICKSP). The author, Robert Morrison, even quoted de Mallerais’s biography of Lefebvre. That was just fun to read.

Awfully small, I know. Can you see it?

What am I reading next?

Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky for our local Well-Read Mom book club.

Book Review

Books in Brief: Hardy, Sayers, & Ten Boom

I’ve written about about these authors before, and yes, they are delightful and entertaining. Today I’ll offer a few thoughts about a different book from each.

Thomas Hardy: The Mayor of Casterbridge

Just finished Hardy, moving onto Lefebvre

Because I loved Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, I decided to give another one of his novels–The Mayor of Casterbridge–a shot. (Thank you, Michelle, for the recommendation. It was well worth the read.)

I was hooked from page 12 wherein Michael Henchard, a dissatisfied and poor hay trusser in early nineteenth-century England, sold his wife at a refreshment tent at a country fair. Indeed, Henchard was hasty and drunk. Consequently, his wife was only glad to depart with an obliging sailor, who purchased her for five guineas.

Now that’s a beginning to grab one’s attention, for I was mighty curious to see just how this book would turn out. It was quite a rollicking ride for a Victorian novel. Oh, but nothing too scandalous, mind you. (Did I mention it was the early 1800s?)

This book reminded me a bit of George Eliot’s Silas Marner–what with people disappearing (think of Dunstan’s drowning and the sailor too) and little girls being raised by other more capable men (think of Silas Marner raising Eppie, and then the sailor in this book raising Elizabeth.)

But really, I was disappointed in the end because I wanted more. I would have liked an account of Mr. Farfrae’s fickleness. Really, the man was attracted to Elizabeth, but then was easily infatuated with Lucetta, only to return once again to Elizabeth. Just how did this change come about, I wonder?

The good thing about this book, and most Victorian novels that I’ve read, is that the good or virtuous characters, while experiencing hardships, are generally rewarded in the end. Conversely, the bad characters are given their due as well. In this case, Elizabeth experiences much persecution from Henchard, but with her quiet humility, she rises gloriously. Henchard, however, dies a lonely man.

Dorothy Sayers: Clouds of Witness

From Victorian novels to detective fiction, here we go. I do love variety.

Now, if you have not read a Dorothy Sayers crime novel, you are missing out. Do start with Gaudy Night, then follow up with Busman’s Honeymoon, for Lord Peter Wimsey is quite a dashing sleuth in those novels.

I’ve heard from somewhere, probably the Literary Life Podcast, that C.S. Lewis admired Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey because he was the only sleuth to have ever evolved throughout his fictional career. I mean, to have grown and developed into a more admirable man.

And it’s true. In Clouds of Witness, which was written prior to the Harriet Vane novels above, we see a more carefree and flippant Wimsey, than in Sayers’s later novels.

Because of that, however, and because there are allusions to complicated marital affairs, I wouldn’t recommend this book for immature audiences. For anybody else, however, this book is hysterical. Sayers is bitingly critical of communism. She’s continually pointing out its contradictions and follies, especially through the Duchess of Denver–my favorite character. (She’s the mother of Wimsey.)

You know, this is what sets Sayers apart from, say, Agatha Christie. Sayers has a way of developing her characters and cunningly using them to speak about something else. In this book, it’s communism. She’s brilliant.

I’ve enjoyed the Agatha Christie novels that I’ve read too, but the Christie novels have a completely different feel. It seems to me that her novels are more concerned with solving the mystery and restoring order than commenting, say, on the medieval theology that built beautiful churches complete with bells and bell choirs. (I’m thinking of Sayers’s The Nine Tailors.)

Corrie Ten Boom: In My Father’s House

Yes, another Corrie Ten Boom book. Really, if you haven’t read The Hiding Place, then I’m not sure what you’re doing wasting your time on my blog. Go get that book.

Since The Hiding Place was an incredible read, I thought I’d pick up her prequel, In My Father’s House. This short book is filled with lovely photographs, about Corrie’s life prior to WWII. So, if you were astonished and inspired by The Hiding Place, then you will want to read this book.

Now, that said, it’s not as gripping as the first, naturally. But there was one thing that struck me. Her family was a family that prayed, and I mean prayed at all times. They never decided anything without praying, and praying right then and there too, in front of anybody and everybody.

Do we do that? I mean, pray at all times?

Corrie is the second from the left. They were poor, and yet, look with what dignity they dressed.

More Books: Ciszek and Lefebvre

I had wanted to say a few words about another nonfictional book I just read, but really, I’m running out of time. So, I’ll just mention it: With God in Russia by Walter Ciszek. Ah! What a tremendous read! Do you have sons? Get them this book immediately. Read it yourself. That priest survived 23 years in Soviet concentration camps, and I’ve never been more inspired by his perseverance and faith in God’s will.

Lastly…what am I reading now?

I’ve picked up Marcel Lefebvre’s biography. I’ve always wanted to read about that controversial SSPX archbishop. I’m about 80 pages into it and loving it. When I finish, I hope to give you my thoughts.

Anybody else reading something good?

Book Review

All About Books: Hardy, Eliot, and Ten Boom

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

I recently finished reading Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. I’ve read it once before, back in my heathen college days, and didn’t like it. I suspect I was too stupid to appreciate Hardy’s vocabulary and too shallow to appreciate his detailed descriptions of flora, fauna, and architecture.

Let me tell you, though, I couldn’t put the book down this time, even in spite of its daunting 362 pages.

This is the same copy I read in college. It even had my old notes in it, which were hysterical to read.

Far From the Madding Crowd is set in rural nineteenth century England and follows the fate of Gabriel Oak who meets and falls immediately in love with a very vain woman named Bathesheba. Then we meet two more men in the novel: Mr. Boldwood and Captain Troy.

Now just looks at those names. What comes to mind? There are so many biblical and ancient references in this book that it’s no wonder I was clueless the first time I read it. (Which is why, by the way, it’s worthwhile to revisit a book that one read a long time ago.)

In any case, this book was amusing and a sheer delight to read.

Silas Marner by George Eliot

I read this book by George Eliot (i.e. Mary Ann Evans) for four reasons:

  1. It’s short.
  2. It’s a Victorian novel. (I love Victorian novels.)
  3. I enjoyed two of Eliot’s other novels, Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda, so why not read another?
  4. Since the gals (and Mr. Banks) were reading it at the Literary Life Podcast, I wanted to follow along with them.

Now, did I like it? Meh. It picked up as I went along, but I must admit, I got tired of the didactic tone, and I found parts of it unbelievable–possible, yes, but unbelievable.

Basically this novel follows the plight of Silas Marner, a thwarted weaver living in the sticks who loses all, but gains something even better. I won’t spoil it for those of you tempted to read it, for it is worth a read.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

I’ve written about this excellent book before. (Click HERE for details.) The reason I reread it was for a local book club–The Well-Read Mom.

As I’ve said before, if you haven’t read this autobiography, you are missing out. Corrie Ten Boom tells her story of hiding Jews during WWII and of how she survived a Nazi concentration camp. I give it a 10+.

Go buy a copy NOW. You won’t be able to put it down.

Bonus Book Mention: And now, a book I tossed into the trash…

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

This book was another read for the Well-Read Mom Book Club. It seems that every year at least one sketchy book is selected.

I tried to finish it, really. But page after page was chock full of occult practices and disordered sexual references, that I quit on page 47. I then looked up the author. It would appear to me that she had an agenda with this book. She wrote it specifically for Young Adults and even won awards for it. Disgusting.

I should have known even before page 47 when Alvarez has one the older sisters tell her younger sister that, “Sometimes you need to do a bad thing for good to come.”* Nope. No, you don’t. The ends never justify the means.

It’s not that authors can’t write about bad or evil things, though. They can, but what matters is that the good is good and the bad is bad. It’s harmful to read books that don’t get virtue and vice right. In others words, you can’t pass bad things off as good, which I think Alvarez does.

Alvarez even admits to having no biographical information about these four sisters who died in the Dominican Republic under a totalitarian regime, and the picture she paints is, well, disturbing. She’s got them playing fortune telling games with a priest, buying and reading spell books behind their mother’s back, drawing pictures of private male anatomy and then laughing when caught, participating in a girl stripping naked for others just to look at, and finally, where I quit, the masturbation scene.

Now you tell me, with zero biographical information, was all that necessary? Or is Alvarez sending a different message? Regardless of what other messages she may want to portray in the book, it would appear that Alvarez is trivializing and therefore normalizing these other completely disordered and disgusting behaviors. And remember, her intended audience are teenagers.

What Am I Reading Next?

I don’t know yet. I might pick up George Orwell’s 1984. Or I might read another Dorothy Sayers detective novel. Or maybe Agatha Christie?

What are you all reading?

*I can’t verify the exact quotation, because I threw the book away. But if you still have the book, check between pages 40-46. Then throw that trash away.

Book Review

84, Charing Cross Road: Really Fun Read!

8 Reasons to Read 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

  1. This book can be read in one sitting. Not kidding. You won’t want to put it down. I only got up once while reading it and that was because one kid decided to bite another kid, and I had to feign like I cared for thirty seconds and dole out consequences. Motherhood.
  2. Read it for free! You can probably get this book from your local library. I did.
  3. This book is in an epistolary book, which means it’s a series of letters written between one party and another. In this case, they’re between Helene Hanff and a book store in London.
  4. It’s a book about books. It’s fun to see what a spinster in 1950s New York City wants to read and can’t find in the States. It’s her real story–her real letters.
  5. And she’s hilarious. On page 5, she informs the book store that they sent her the wrong bible. She writes, “Kindly inform the Church of England they have loused up the most beautiful prose ever written, whoever told them to tinker with the Vulgate Latin? They’ll burn for it, you mark my words. It’s nothing to me, I’m Jewish myself…”
  6. I think the gals (and the Mysterious Mr. Banks) at the Literary Life Podcast are going to do an episode on this book soon. They keep mentioning it, anyway, which was why I read it to begin with.
  7. Speaking of the Literary Life Podcast…you do know it’s the best podcast out there, right?
  8. Helene Hanff loves Jane Austen. She put off reading her because she hates novels and anything that didn’t really happen in Real Life, but when she finally did read Pride and Prejudice, she “went out of my mind” over it.

2 Reasons to NOT Read 84, Charing Cross Road

  1. It’s too short. I wanted it to go on and on. My heart sank when it ended.
  2. It’s apparent that a few letters are missing. Where are they? I’d like to know!
Book Review

What Are We Reading?

Today I’ll give a brief overview of what everyone in my family is reading. This might give you some book ideas, if you’re stuck in a rut.

Speaking of ruts…are you stuck in one? I mean, when’s the last time you picked up a book instead of your phone to read something?

For those of you who are addicted to technology and treat your phone like a god, put it down! Take a break. See if you can not touch that Thing for a whole day. (After you’ve finished reading this blog post, of course.)

Books, Books, Books

Shall we start with the youngest?

The two Little Wreckers aren’t actually able to read, so they just drop in wherever anyone else is reading a book. They are not deterred if that person is silently reading. They just plop themselves down and look on.

For example, yesterday, I wondered upstairs to find this:

As you can see, the Older Sister was finishing up Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The Littlest Wrecker undeterred, hopped in her chair, threw a doll down, and worked at dressing another doll. The Other Wrecker less obtrusively looked on. Eventually they did beg the Older Sister to read aloud, which she happily did.

I noticed last night, however, that the Older Sister started a new book from the Fairchild Family Series by Rebecca Caudill. Now she’s reading Happy Little Family.

How about the boys?

At this moment, the boys are all deep into the Redwall Series by Jacques Brian, again. There are some twenty or more books in this series, and we only own the first eight or nine. So every now and then the boys beg me to pick up a few from the library, which I did earlier this week. They’re currently reading Long Patrol, Marlfox, and Legend of Luke, I think.

The boys also have a few audio books going. At lunchtime, we’re listening to The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. This is the original book–not a modern, edited version–and it’s difficult, but beautiful and definitely worthwhile.

We do own a hardcover Illustrated Classics version of The Pilgrim’s Progress and another edited version that my boys read when they were little, but I wanted them to hear the original language and be very familiar with it. This book is so important. I can’t tell you how many times The Pilgrim’s Progress is mentioned in other books.

The other audio book we’re listening to during Art and History Time is from Tan Publishing. It’s volume 4, The Story of Civilization: The History of the United States. This whole series is great and worth owning in both print and audio versions.

The Eldest

The Eldest is reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe for her Literature class and Honey From the Rock by Roy Schoeman, which she picked up off of our bookshelves for fun.

Honey From the Rock is a fascinating read as it chronicles the conversion stories of 16 mostly well known Jews. I can particularly remember Alphonse Ratisbonne, who dramatically converted while in Rome after taking a dare to wear the Miraculous Metal. He eventually became a priest.

There is also the story of Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God, which some of you may know from Catholic Answers and LifeSiteNews.

My Husband

My husband is currently reading a Ham Radio manual and Nothing Superfluous by Rev. James Jackson, FSSP. It must be a good book because my husband enjoys pausing and telling anyone in the room all the biblical and historical reasonings behind every gesture, item, and action during the Traditional Latin Mass.

Me?

I just finished rereading two books: The Quiet Light by Louis De Wohl and In This House of Brede by Rumor Godden. Both are excellent reads. The Quiet Light is a delightful romp through history with spiritually edifying insights. It also features a sacrificial love story of a knight, thwarted by his lady.

In This House of Brede is just downright good. If you’ve read it, you know. My favorite sister is Dame Agnes because she’s so cranky and always right. Dame Veronica, the book’s Drama Queen, gets a close second, though, because I love it when her chin quivers. She’s hysterical.

And what am I going to read next?

I think I’ll read Robert Hugh Benson’s The Queen’s Tragedy, which chronicles the reign of Mary Tudor in England. I’ve never been disappointed with Benson’s historical novels.

How about you?

Have you read anything good lately?

Book Review

O’Brien’s Latest Novel: The Lighthouse

Michael O’ Brien, Catholic Author Extraordinaire, has recently published a new novel, The Lighthouse, through Ignatius Press.

Here it is.

My copy came in the mail last Monday. I finished reading it Tuesday night. Yes, it was that good, and yes, it was rather short for him–only 199 pages. In truth, that was my one disappointment. I was hoping for a whale of an epic, something along the lines of Voyage to Alpha Centauri or A Father’s Tale. Alas, his last three novels have been on the shorter side–Elijah in Jerusalem, The Fool of New York City, and this one, The Lighthouse.

Length aside, The Lighthouse is a moving tale of the life of Ethan McQuarry, a young lighthouse keeper with a wounded past. Just like his other novels, we get a good dose of sin, evil, loneliness, holiness, and redemption. Unlike most of his other novels, the evil is not expressly tangible, as say in Sophia House or Island of the World. You Michael O’Brien readers out there will know what I’m talking about. One is not made to read through truly horrific evil acts. And because of that, The Lighthouse seems, well, lighter, even with its tragic but redemptive ending.

Those of you who have never picked up an O’Brien novel, this might be a good place to start. Those of you who can’t seem to put O’Brien novels down, this book won’t disappoint you.

Happy Reading!

Book Review

Book Review: Dorothy Sayers’s Strong Poison

First of all, a business note:  I’ll be on vacation for a few days.  Deo gratias.

Secondly, with sigh, the area around Paul’s spinal catheter is beginning to swell again.  If you think of it, remember him in your prayers.  It would appear to be only a matter of time before he’s in surgery once again.   Fiat mihi secundum verbum.

And now for delightful Summer Reads…

After finishing Dorothy Sayers’s Gaudy Night and loving it, of course I would immediately want to read Strong Poison (and Busman’s Honeymoon.)

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Gaudy Night could be my favorite book of the year.

Now, if you haven’t read Gaudy Night, quit reading this blog post right now and go read that.  Then come back to this post to see if Strong Poison is for you, because I have One Big Qualm with it.

Strong Poison

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This book is naturally going to be interesting to those who have read Gaudy Night, as it’s the backstory of Harriet Vane’s infamous trial, as she’s accused of poisoning and killing her then live-in boyfriend, Philip Boyes.  This trial and Vane’s immoral history are alluded to several times in Gaudy Night.  It was rather informative, therefore, to actually read about it.

Perhaps I should have mentioned that Sayers wrote Strong Poison first, then Gaudy Night?  But I’m not sure reading them in that order would be captivating, for I think Strong Poison isn’t as good.  Certainly I love Sayers’s wit, and the glimpses of immature Lord Peter Wimsey falling hard for Vane are so enduring, but as I mentioned above, I have One Big Qualm with this book.

My problem is that Miss Climpson, an undercover employee of Wimsey’s, decides to play the part of a soothsayer or a spiritualist in order to obtain information to free the innocent Vane from prison and the death sentence.  By doing this, Climpson leads multiple false seances, pretending to invoke the dead, while also manipulating an Ouija Board.

Now this is a Bad Idea; it’s downright dangerous.  This is the world of the demonic–just ask any exorcist.  In fact, these kinds of behaviors open one to demonic oppression or possession.  One would want to stay as far away from such things as possible.

To be fair, Miss Climpson does voice her concerns, and it would appear that her conscience does bother her, but in the end, she goes through with it.  One could maybe conclude that while Sayers doesn’t like the practice of deception to reach into this evil world of spirits, she too, however, would be willing to go through with it?  I don’t know.

But I do know that that chapter alone is the reason why I couldn’t recommend this book to anybody who does not understand the seriousness of the matter.  Let me repeat myself–only a mature reader ought to read this book.

Strong Poison otherwise was a delightful read.  One gets a clearer picture of Vane’s transformation from a girl willing to practice “free love” to a woman beginning to realize the foolishness and shallowness of such behavior.  In the end, Vane wants something more, but needs time to heal, which Lord Peter Wimsey just doesn’t understand until Gaudy Night.  

So, what am I bringing on vacation to read?

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Busman’s Honeymoon, naturally, as it follows Gaudy Night.  I’ve started it already and have had to force myself to put it down, or I won’t have anything worthy to read on the beach.  I hope to write a few words on it later next week or so.

Book Review

Gaudy Night: Book Review

Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers

Now this was a delightful read.  In fact, I couldn’t put it down.  Dorothy Sayers just turned my whole literary world upside down.  I thought I hated detective fiction.  I thought it was a waste of time.  I thought the whole genre could be brushed right into the dust bin.

Oh, was I wrong.

Let me back up a minute and define what actually is a narrow field of fiction: the detective novel.  The detective novel is different from the broader field of mystery novels.  The detective novel has a few rules:

  1. There’s a detective.  (I know, this should be obvious, right?  But nothing is obvious to me in this mysterious new world of words.)
  2. The author must provide all the clues and evidence in the text, so that the reader can actually solve the crime, along with the detective.
  3. In other words, to restate #2, one cannot withhold information which is available to the detective, but not to the reader.

I’m told there are other differences too, but I’m a slow learner, and these are the ones that stood out.  If you’re interested in learning a bit about this, a dear friend of mine in North Dakota sent me a lively and informative podcast about this very thing.  Click HERE for it and scroll down to Episode 3. ( You won’t regret listening to Cindy Rollins and Angelina Stanford.  I love these ladies.)

Back to Sayers

Like most homeschool moms, I had read Sayers’s famous essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” and it had never occurred to me that she had written anything else.  Why should it?  At that time in my life, I was too busy in grad school reading all sorts of new and lovely books–Chesterton, Belloc, Waugh…  I wouldn’t have had room in my little brain for her anyway.

Plus, Sayers is really smart.  I mean, really, really intelligent.  She was one of the first women in history to be given a degree from Oxford.  Her knowledge of those things Medieval and Renaissance is impressive.  Gaudy Night is chock-full of references and quotations from that time period, which I struggle with.  Thankfully Cindy Rollins and Angelina Stanford put together a couple of podcasts specifically about Gaudy Night, which I found tremendously helpful.  You can find these episodes on their Literary Life Podcast.  I can’t recommend them enough, especially if you fell in love with Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, like I did.

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Back to Gaudy Night

It was within the first few pages that I knew I’d like Sayers’s heroine, Harriet Vane.  Sayers writes:

But Harriet had broken all her old ties and half the commandments, dragged her reputation in the dust and made money, had the rich and amusing Lord Peter Wimsey at her feet, to marry him if she chose, and was full of energy and bitterness and the uncertain rewards of fame.

That pretty much sums Harriet Vane up, and the novel is so engaging because we get to see her finally take a good look at herself, and realize that she had it all wrong.  She didn’t really know herself–or Peter for that matter.

And then there’s Lord Peter Wimsey.  Angelina Sanford compares his personality to that of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.  I found this intriguing and so true, especially when it came to manners and wedding proposals.

I promise that this book isn’t just a love story, though.  There is a mystery to solve…  In fact, there’s a lot going on in this book.  Sayers has multiple themes running at once.  For you see, she was writing this book at a time when women in universities was a new thing, and so she explores all the complications of introducing another “sex” into the life of Oxford.  She ponders single life and married life and women in the workforce and women at home.  It’s all there, and it’s messy.

In the end, I can’t wait to reread this book.  But first I want to get ahold of her previous novel Strong Poison where we get the backstory of Harriet and Peter.  Then I want to read the book after Gaudy Night wherein Peter and Harriet are solving crime mysteries on their honeymoon–goodness!

 

Book Review

Read a Print Book!

The other day I attended a talk given by the founder of the Well-Read Mom Book Club, Marcie Stokman.  The most inspiring point I took away was simple and went something like this:

You really do have time to read!

Now, she’s right.  There are many moments throughout the day that I waste.  For example, what did I choose to do during those fifteen minutes of free time after the boys’ Morning School, but before I had to get lunch ready?  Nothing.  I really can’t account for them.  Then, what about that half hour in the afternoon when nobody was hanging on me?  I checked my email and scrolled through a favorite blog.  Or, how about last night when everyone was in bed?  Hmmm….

Usually I’m pretty good about not wasting time, but I know I do it.  Yesterday, however, I was inspired to sneak in a few extra minutes of reading, and it was worth it.  I actually read about 75 pages.  Got that?  75 pages that I normally wouldn’t read.

Today, I just want to challenge you to pick up a print book and read it, if only for ten minutes.  Just do it.

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P.S.  Need a book recommendation?  I would suggest anything by Michael O’Brien or Jane Austen.

P.P.S.  Already read all of O’Brien and Austen?  Read Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

Book Review

Books in Brief: Willa Cather, Miguel Pro, & Agatha Christie

I’ve read a few books recently.  If you’re interested, my thoughts are below.

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Song of the Lark by Willa Cather

Willa Cather is one of my favorite authors.  The way she writes about the land–the prairie in particular–is deeply moving.  I suppose it’s because I grew up on a farm, and I have vivid memories of climbing grain bins only to watch the sun set on acres and acres of corn.

But it’s not just the way in which Cather writes about land, though, that is admirable.  No, it’s the way in which she writes about people, especially those early settlers.  Her stories remind me of my ancestors and their stories.

Cather knew these farmers and immigrants–for she was one of them–and she was able to give them an unforgettable voice–a dolorous voice, for their lives were full of suffering, which brings me around to Song of the Lark.  In this novel, my favorite characters were just those who couldn’t seem to pull it together–Professor Wunsch especially, but also Fritz Kohler and perhaps Mrs. Tellamantez.

This novel, though, was my least favorite Willa Cather novel.  I didn’t like Thea Kronborg, and I didn’t like Fred Ottenburg.  In the end, Thea puts her career, wealth, and fame over her mother’s dying wish to see her one last time, and Fred wants to justify lying to Thea in order to further Thea’s career.  (Do you know, Fred reminded me of Mr. Rochester from that excellent novel Jane Eyre?  You’ll recall both men had secret wives and both thought that the means could justify the end, which is stupid and wrong.)

In short, however, I was disappointed in Song of the Lark.  While I enjoyed her descriptions of Moonstone and the surrounding Colorado territory, I just couldn’t muster up enough sympathy or compassion for Thea.

But for those of you unfamiliar with Cather, take heart!  Read her other works, especially Death Comes For the Archbishop.  Now that’s an exceptional book.

Father Miguel Pro by Gerald Muller

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Our family’s Saint of the Year is Miguel Pro.  Naturally I thought it a good idea to read up on him, and so I bought this Ignatius Press book at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which has a side altar dedicated to him.

I really enjoyed reading this book and so did the rest of my family.  In fact, we had to make a rule: No One Takes That Book Out of the Living Room Until Mom is Done Reading It!

Well, I finished it, and I have a much deeper appreciation for this priest who survived a few years of the terrible Mexican Revolution in the 1920s wherein churches were desecrated, nuns were raped, and priests were murdered.  Fr. Miguel Pro was eventually hunted down too and shot.

I highly recommend this short book for your whole family.

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It has great pictures too.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

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My daughter is taking a British Literature class this summer wherein all the novels are murder mysteries.  Yikes.  She’ll be reading the likes of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and G. K. Chesterton.

Now I’ve never read an Agatha Christie novel.  Up until this week, the only thing I knew about Christie was the fact that she signed the infamous 1971 “Agatha Christie Indult,” wherein Pope Paul VI granted England and Wales permission to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass.

Apparently Christie, who was not even a Catholic, objected to the promulgation of the Novus Ordo due to cultural and aesthetic reasons.  She signed with the likes of Graham Greene.  Supposedly Paul VI saw her name and exclaimed, “Ah, Agatha Christie!”

So as I was saying, I was motivated to snatch up The Murder of Roger Ackroyd before The Eldest got to it.  Just what is all this fuss about Agatha Christie in the twentieth-century anyway? Apparently she’s the most widely published author of all time, excluding the Bible and Shakespeare.

And how was it?  Reading a murder-mystery novel?

I can’t say it’s my cup of tea, as the British saying goes.  Even though The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was entertaining, I felt like I was supposed to use my brain and try to solve the thing while reading it.  Now I’m feeling old, and there were just too many parlourmaids and butlers to keep track of and too many open windows and missing objects and murder motives and such too.  Goodness.

I can handle playing the board-game Clue, but that’s the extent of my ability to solve a murder.  So, I’ll have to leave it to sharper blades in the drawer to tackle these books.

Book Review

Books in Brief: Van Stockum, Speare, Undset, & de Trevino

You’d think that during this Communist Lock-Down, I’d have lots of time to write blog posts.  Alas, if it were only so!  As it is, I find it very difficult to actually sit down at the computer and remain undisturbed for even 2 minutes to write.

Just now, typing that above paragraph, I had three different girls wanting my attention.  “Mom, can we have crackers for our Dolly Picnic?”  And, “Mom, it’s wet outside.”  And finally, the third girl just came in and stared at me.

This is why, back in the good old days, I used to pack up my laptop, drive to a coffeeshop, and peck away with a hot cappuccino and no children in sight.  (Bless their souls; they are so cute.)

But I digress.  Today’s topic is books, and I intend to offer a few lovely ones that we’ve enjoyed lately.  My apologies if my descriptions and explanations are a bit brief–please refer back to the beginning of this essay.

The Bantry Bay Series by Hilda van Stockum

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Lately I’ve been reading Hilda van Stockum’s Bantry Bay Series as our afternoon read aloud.  These books are published through Bethlehem Books.

As I’m only halfway into the second book of three, I suppose I can only speak from what I’ve read, but they’re excellent.  They’re set in Ireland around the turn of the 20th century and follow the story of a rural family.

All of our children are enjoying this series.  Even our eldest, age 13, leaves her homework and slips into the living room to listen to my terrible Irish accent.  (If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly, right?)

I especially appreciate the glorious innocence of the time period.

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

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We listened to this book via Audible during our lunchtime.  We also own it, however, so that once we began, the older children clamored for the hard copy.

This book is set around Jerusalem at the time of Christ and follows the life of Daniel bar Jamin.  He’s an eighteen-year-old boy caught up in revenge and plotting and spying and truth-seeking.  He’s full of anger and impetuous.  My boys love him.  I enjoy seeing the Gospels in a new light.

My little girls, however, are somewhat lost listening to it.  They could care less about a bunch of teenage boys ambushing Romans and all that.

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

This book is a Masterpiece.  It’s my second time reading it, and I’m especially enjoying all those little things I missed before.  (And forgot about.)

That is the test of a good novel, by the way.  If you’re willing to reread a book, then it must be a good one, and you should own it.

I wish I had more time to write about this novel, but alas, I’ve already spent several minutes writing this, and the clock is ticking.  It’s only a matter of time before someone comes crying into this room.

My Heart Lies South: The Story of My Mexican Marriage by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino

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Now, if you need lighter fare, this is your book.  I’ve got the “Young People’s Edition,” whatever that means.  I’m actually reading it to see how suitable it would be for my 13-year-old.  I’m not finished with it yet, but I’m enjoying all the quaint references to a world now long gone.  It’s set in Monterrey and follows the life of a young journalist in the 1930s who finds herself married to Mexican.

It’s fun, so far.

And Lastly…

If you’re looking for a good homily, I can’t recommend my priest enough.  He’s a warrior for the faith.  Last Saturday he delivered yet another dynamite homily.  Click HERE for it and scroll ahead to 30:03.

I was very glad to be present at this private Mass with all the children.  (My husband was acting as MC and serving.)  It’s important for them to see clearly what’s happening in the Church.

In this particular homily our priest examines Ratzinger’s 1969 prophecy that the Church would become small.  I’ll post a couple paragraphs from Ratzinger–later Pope Benedict XVI–below.  The whole thing can be purchased in book form from Amazon or Ignatius Press.  It’s chilling, it’s true, and we’re living this now.

1969 Prophecy of Fr. Ratzinger

“What will remain is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church that believes in the God who has become man and promises us life beyond death. The kind of priest who is no more than a social worker can be replaced by the psychotherapist and other specialists; but the priest who is no specialist, who does not stand on the [sidelines], watching the game, giving official advice, but in the name of God places himself at the disposal of man, who is beside them in their sorrows, in their joys, in their hope and in their fear, such a priest will certainly be needed in the future.
Let us go a step farther. From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly it will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Along-side this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize the sacraments as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.
The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain — to the renewal of the nineteenth century…”