Monday, March 7, 2011

Lenten Reading: Fiction

  • Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy by Rumer Godden
    This is an inspiring tale of conversion and redemption told in flashback sequence. We meet Lise when she is being released from prison where she has served her term for murder. She is going to join an order that ministers to those on the fringes of society. The reasons behind the murder become clear as the threads come together again in the people around Lise in current time. Threaded through the tale also is the rosary which Lise doesn't enjoy saying but comes to depend upon.

  • Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
    Dante's Inferno told through a science fiction focus with Dante's role being filled by a writer who fell to his death at a science fiction convention. He insists that Hell doesn't exist and keeps trying to find scientific explanations for everything he encounters, which sometimes is very funny indeed. The theology in the book isn't completely sound but this is somewhat like Dante "Lite" and is a wonderful introduction to the concepts Dante wrote about. It is the book that made me take a new look at self examination and then go on to read John Ciardi's translation of Dante's Divine Comedy. Not intended as such by the authors, it is a "gateway" book to Dante.

  • Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis
    Retelling the story of Cupid and Psyche, this shows Lewis's echoes of what is familiar in myth but which also is a bit of truth about Christianity. Suffice it to say that this story works as plain storytelling, as myth, as truth underlying myth, as character study, as unbelievably delicately written prose, and as fantasy. In short, this book is not nearly as difficult to read as I'd heard, while on the other hand containing rich layers that lend to repeated readings.

  • Valley of Bones by Michael Gruber
    In Miami, a man is hit on the head and thrown from a hotel balcony. When the homicide detective, Paz, goes up to investigate, he finds a woman, Emmylou Dideroff, in the room. She is in a trance, speaking to St. Catherine of Siena, which qualifies her as both a wacko and a likely murderer. This is a gritty mystery that contains a fascinating spiritual thread throughout that is interesting in itself as each character responds in their own way. This all is being told through four points of view, all of which show various ways of conversion and openness to God.

  • Prince of Foxes by Samuel Shellabarger
    This historical fiction tells of Andrea Orsini, who is one of Cesare Borgia's most trusted political manipulators during the Italian Renaissance. This is a swashbuckler that simultaneously shows Andrea's transition of a human heart from greed to love, selfishness to sacrifice, and power grubbing to nobility.

  • Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simenson
    Major Pettigrew is living a quiet life in the village of Edgecombe St. Mary when the news that his brother has suddenly died comes and sends him into a (very quiet) tailspin. It sparks a sudden friendship with Mrs. Ali who has also lost her husband. Both are struggling quietly with relatives who selfishly want to force them to behave differently. This is a brilliantly told tale in which no character is perfect but also no character is without a nuanced personality, which means no one is all bad either. It's a gentle tale of love, second chances, and self realization.

  • Eifelheim by Michael J. Flynn
    Imagine that in the 14th century a little village in the depths of the Black Forest has an alien space ship crash nearby. The aliens look like giant grasshoppers. Naturally, many of the local peasants think they are demons. Others, however, especially the village priest who was educated in Paris, take into consideration what makes a creature "a man." In other words, what constitutes a soul and therefore makes it incumbent upon us to treat aliens as we would wish to be treated? Flynn does an excellent job of recreating the 14th century mindset so this is not simply a story told with modern sensibilities in a long ago setting.

  • Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
    A real page-turner which many think they know because the cultural references are so embedded in our society. However, if you haven't read this book then you don't know it at all. First and foremost, Uncle Tom actually is a Christ-figure, a living saint. No wonder he is misunderstood by so many. Stowe does a good job showing many different attitudes toward slavery and how people excused themselves under the flimsiest of excuses. What is unexpected is how well she examines the varying levels of Christianity proclaimed and threaded solidly throughout the story.

  • Silence by Shusaku Endo
    Historical fiction centered on young Jesuit, Sebastião Rodrigues, who travels secretly to Japan in 1638 when Catholics have been driven underground by persecution. He and a companion are to provide aid and to investigate reports that his mentor, a much admired priest, has publicly denied the Christ. The result is, as a wise old friend of mine said, Christianity in a nutshell.

  • Our Lady of the Lost and Found by Diane Schoemperlen
    A writer who lives a quiet life walks into her living room one day to find Mary (yes, the Blessed Virgin) standing in her living room with a suitcase. She needs a vacation to rest up before May begins with all the celebrations devoted to Mary. They talk, clean, and shop but it is never boring and is an engaging combination of the history of key Marian apparitions and a personal journey of faith for the writer who tells the story. I think of this as a story of what Mary does in "ordinary time."


  1. Our Lady of the Lost and Found sounds fantastic - thanks for telling me about it.

  2. I'm just about to start In This House of Brede. Also, I am going to take your blog post as an official recommendation and finally dive into Major Pettigrew, which I've wanted to read since it was first released a couple years ago.

  3. In This House of Brede is one of my all-time favorite books. You'll love it. Five for Sorrow... just seemed a little more Lent-ish but I almost went with In This House instead.

  4. Julie, another great list.

    I love Brede! And Five for Sorrow. Two of Godden's best. I can't believe I only discovered her within the last five years. (And for that I owe many, many thanks to you.)

    Our book club read Major Pettigrew and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

    I still have mixed feelings about Our Lady of the Lost and Found, though.

    I was so glad I discovered Eifelheim. One of my all-time favorite science fiction reads. I think I picked that one up on your recommendation as well.

    And Silence is a book I'm still pondering months after it went back to the library. I think I'll need to re-read it.

  5. Tante Léonie3/7/11, 10:31 PM

    I'm going to suggest:

    Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, both by Dostoevsky

    Godric by Fredrick Buechner

  6. I haven't heard of Godric ... at least I think not. It might be on my reading list and I am just not calling it to mind.

    You remind me, in a timely fashion, that I actually have the audio for The Brothers Karamazov and soon would be a good time to begin it. Thank you! :-)

  7. Tante Léonie3/8/11, 2:18 PM

    Well, I love Buechner, and I cried my eyes out while reading this novel.

    Cried reading Brothers K and Crime and Punishment, too, come to think about it!

    I hope the audio for Brothers K isn't abridged; you'll really want the whole thing -- it's 200 proof!

  8. It is definitely unabridged.

    Although hearing about crying one's eyes out isn't a good way to entice me to read it. :-D

    However, I already had listened to the first half hour or so and really loved it ... so had put it to one side for later. Which never came. And, I also cried my eyes out over Uncle Tom's Cabin and A Tale of Two Cities ... so perhaps that IS a good recommendation after all. :-)

  9. I'm glad to see Prince of Foxes and Till We have Faces on your list. Those are two of my favorites. I also read Eifelheim a couple of years ago and enjoyed it. Since I know those three that I have read are good, I will have to try out some of your other suggestions.

  10. Yes, indeed Five for Sorrow - love it. Another piece of fiction I highly recommend is Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. So many threads weave in and out of this vast story - love, sacrifice, forgiveness, respect - incredible.

  11. I am in the middle of Island of the World by Michael O'Brien. Wow, what a ride!! I can't imagine how this will end. Have you read any of his books? Have you read this one? I would love to hear what anyone else thinks about this. I guess I should reserve judgement till then end but so far, it is a book that I will definitely read again and want to own. Please let me know what you think. Thanks for all the great suggestions.

  12. I have tried a couple of his books and not really liked them, though I know that lots of other people love them. So it's just a matter of taste in my case I think! :-)

  13. Pardon the BSP (blatant self promotion), but my Catholic mystery novel, BLEEDER (Sophia Institute Press, 2009), occurs during Lent and ends with Eastertide. In the story, a stigmatic priest apparantly bleeds to death on Good Friday in front of horrified parishioners. A miracle? Or bloody murder? Aristotle expert Reed Stubblefield needs to find the truth - since police regard him as the 'prime person of interest' in the mysterious death. Don't worry - it isn't gory. St Anthony Messenger called it "a book-length contemplation of the mystery of undeserved suffering." You can see a story summary and Catholic reviews at my site,
    John Desjarlais

  14. Hi John ... I remember reading about your book but the review copy offered by the publisher never materialized (ha!) in my mail box. It sounds fantastic and is on my wish list where perhaps some family member will take pity and send it for my birthday. :-)

  15. I've settled on trying to read The Brothers Karamazov again. I promised a friend, whose favorite book it is, that I'd tackle it this year. Somehow it seemed a good choice for Lent.