Friday, January 29, 2016

Well Said: The Church "Interfering" in Politics

The accusation against the Church for being either right or left wing tells you more about the contemporary political assumptions than about the political inclination of Catholicism. The Church will seem both "right wing" (in promoting the traditional family, opposing abortion, euthanasia, embryonic research, etc.) and "left wing" (in advocating the rights of minorities, social justice, active state support for the poorest, etc.), depending on the political bias of the one accusing .The same bias afflicts Catholics. There are pro-life Catholics who think Catholic social teaching is "socialist," and pro-social-justice Catholics who think pro-life causes are right wing.

The Church will always be accused of "interfering" or trying to "impose" its view when the critic disagrees with its stance; but the same critic will say nothing when the Church has intervened politically on a matter with which he or she agrees. And if the Church has stayed silent, the critic will accuse it of "failing to speak out." Put another way, people are against the Church "interfering" in what they would much rather have left alone; and in favor of "interfering" in what they believe should be changed.

Why and when does the Church speak out on political questions? The answer is rarely and cautiously, and almost always because it is a matter which touches on the Gospel, on core freedoms and rights (such as the right to life, or to religious freedom), or on core principles of Catholic social teaching. In these cases, the Church not only needs to speak out; it has a duty to do so.
Austen Ivereigh, How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice
With politics about to get even more prominent in our lives, I think it's time for me to reread this book!

Worth a Thousand Words: Yucca, Cactus and Fog

Yucca and cactus overlooking a foggy valley
on the last day of fall, 2015 in San Saba County, Texas
Taken by Texas landscape photographer, Jason Merlo

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Well Said: My Brother's Garden

Some young children sported among the tombs, and hid from each other, with laughing faces. They had an infant with them, and had laid it down asleep upon a child's grave, in a little bed of leaves. It was a new grave — the resting-place, perhaps, of some little creature, who, meek and patient in its illness, had often sat and watched them, and now seemed, to their minds, scarcely changed.

She drew near and asked one of them whose grave it was. The child answered that that was not its name; it was a garden — his brother's. It was greener, he said, than all the other gardens, and the birds loved it better because he had been used to feed them. When he had done speaking, he looked at her with a smile, and kneeling down and nestling for a moment with his cheek against the turf, bounded merrily away.
Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop
Lest one think that the child is untouched by his brother's death, later in the book we learn how much this little boy misses him. What I loved about this was the personal way he called it a garden, how it made him think of his brother feeding the birds, and that nestling on the turf like a hug. It was touching and also lifted me up.

Worth a Thousand Words: O'Toole Reads

O'Toole Reads
via Awesome People Reading

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

The Old Curiosity ShopThe Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a strangely fascinating tale and you can easily see why it was so popular in its day. The poverty-stricken Nell and her grandfather escaping the villainous dwarf Quilp has all the makings of The Fugitive. Everyone suspects that the grandfather is wealthy and it would be worth while to clap him into the insane asylum while marrying Nell when she comes of age. (A brief note here, Nell is continually called "the child" so I was surprised to find that she is actually 14 years old. This makes much more believable her dual innocence and ingenuity in escaping ill wishers.)

Charles Dickens' early novels often included a road trip, but adding the element of penniless escape from a determined hunt for such innocent figures had me on the edge of my seat. Who would they encounter next? Would chance acquaintances really help Nell and Grandfather or would they try to turn them in for a reward? Adding to that is the grandfather's mysterious problem which leads the fugitives the brink of disaster when it is revealed. This leaves the reader with a gripping sense of peril.

As is always the case, Dickens treats us to a host of memorable characters. Touring the countryside leads to encounters with sideshow type performers, a wax museum, and many other oddities of the time. In this sense The Old Curiosity Shop could be taken to refer to the journey itself, replete with eccentricities that will either move or startle the viewer.

My favorite character was that charming ne'er-do-well Dick Swiveller. Thinking it over, I realized that he is the only character in the book who shows growth and moral development. That is unusual for such a minor character, but as we follow Dick's path through the book we see that he has a talent for discerning the truth, treating others considerately, and for taking action when needed. All this is done without ever making him sentimental or annoying. His story is almost always told through behind-the-scenes action such as when we see him playing cards with the Marchioness. This is a foreshadowing of Dickens' talent which will bloom greatly in his later books.

The audiobook was performed by veteran narrator and actor Anton Lesser. Lesser brings his acting background to more than just voice performances. Sometimes a world of meaning is conveyed through a sigh, a pregnant pause, coy delivery, or deliberate pacing. It left me always eager to return to the book even though I'd read it before.

The Old Curiosity Shop is very enjoyable and not just the soppy, sentimental book we all think we "know" because it is common knowledge that Nell dies in the end.


Review copy of audiobook provided by SFFaudio.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Burnt Matches and a Tree

Burnt Matches and a Tree
by Owen Swain

Well Said: Making heroes of ourselves

Do you think,’ said Tom, with a grave smile, ‘that even if she had never seen him, it is very likely she would have fallen in love with Me?’

‘Why not, dear Tom?’

Tom shook his head, and smiled again.

‘You think of me, Ruth,’ said Tom, ‘and it is very natural that you should, as if I were a character in a book; and you make it a sort of poetical justice that I should, by some impossible means or other, come, at last, to marry the person I love. But there is a much higher justice than poetical justice, my dear, and it does not order events upon the same principle. Accordingly, people who read about heroes in books, and choose to make heroes of themselves out of books, consider it a very fine thing to be discontented and gloomy, and misanthropical, and perhaps a little blasphemous, because they cannot have everything ordered for their individual accommodation. Would you like me to become one of that sort of people?’
Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit
This really struck me since it applies just as much in our own time, if not more. How many of us allow ourselves to be discontented because it isn't "ordered for our individual accommodation?" This is heavily influenced by the "way things should be" in books, movies, social media, and more; all without the balance of any sort of grounding in "higher justice."

Monday, January 25, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Whimsical Numbers

Whimsical Numbers
by Melissa B. Tubbs

Lagniappe: A passing fairy's hiccough

[Mrs. Gamp] was by this time in the doorway curtseying to Mrs. Mould. At the same time a peculiar fragrance was borne upon the breeze, as if a passing fairy had hiccoughed, and had previously been to a wine vault.
Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit
Such pertinent information, so amusingly conveyed. What a master!

Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens

Martin ChuzzlewitMartin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn't expect to like this book very much. It is almost unknown, it is an earlier book, and it has a section savagely satirizing Americans. I was, therefore, quite surprised to find myself really enjoying it and picking it up whenever possible, especially toward the end which had a lot of surprising twists. It really struck me as a bridging work between the "road trip" early novels where the protagonist doesn't change much and the later, greater works which are greatly satisfying as complete stories.

Reading G.K. Chesterton's commentary on it afterward, I thought it was funny that he thought the novel didn't come alive until Martin got to America, while that was the part I most disliked. I could take the attacks on the American character. After all, what are many of Dickens' most well known characters, if not attacks on aspects of the British character? It was that Dickens hit one note and one note only in America, with none of the more complete humor and development that he gives to those like Mrs. Gamp or Mr. Pecksniff. So it became boring. The saving grace for that section was Martin's growth and Mark Tapley, who, as the Sam Weller of the novel, I could read about all day.

There are two Martin Chuzzlewits in this book, the grandfather and the grandson. The question I carried throughout the book was which one the book is named after? By the end, I feel as if I had my answer, though it is left open for the reader to decide.

Definitely recommended. I'd have given it 3-1/2 stars if GoodReads allowed it, but the surprise of having so much more to the book than I expected prompted me to go higher since I was forced to choose.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Well Said: Dealing out death in judgment

Flipping through my first quote journal, this seemed eerily appropriate to this day.
Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Worth a Thousand Words: Dogs from Europe

Dogs from Europe, Hashimoto Kansetsu
via Arts Everyday Living
There is something wonderful about these Russian dogs painted Japanese style.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Mother Figure

Mother Figure
by Karin Jurick
Karin Jurick's museum series is a favorite of mine and I encourage you to look around at her site to find more. Also, she's got great insights and information about Whistler's Mother, so don't miss those.

Lagniappe: Stupidity

Still perusing my first quote journal.
Stupidity is also a gift of God but one mustn't misuse it.
Pope John Paul II
I do my best but sometimes my gift overcomes me and springs free.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The March for Life in Canada, Ireland, Italy, England, Peru, Mexico ...

The March for Life in Washington, D.C. has inspired a worldwide March for Life movement.

I had no idea. We are not alone. Take a look.

Intimate Graces: How Practicing the Works of Mercy Brings Out the Best in Marriage by Teresa Tomeo

Intimate Graces: How Practicing the Works of Mercy Brings Out the Best in Marriage by Teresa Tomeo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Catholic Church encourages believers to perform Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, tangible actions that show charity toward others. In Intimate Graces, Teresa Tomeo and her husband, Dominick Pastore, demonstrate how applying the fourteen traditional virtues of Catholic spirituality can foster deeper intimacy in any marriage. The couple uses personal stories and reflections, as well as the experiences of other Catholic couples, to show how a husband and wife can become, in a real way, a haven of compassion and virtue for each other. Tomeo and Pastore each write in their own voice and include reflection questions, practical suggestions, and a prayer at the end of each chapter.
This is the sort of book that I'd give to any couple experiencing a bit of strain. Actually, I suppose that is everyone as even good marriages are always a balancing act.

It can sound a bit academic or offputting when reading that the basic concept of the book "demonstrates how applying the fourteen traditional virtues of Catholic spirituality" leads to a better marriage. However, Tomeo's warm personal style and the couple's many stories about their marriage take the forefront. The virtues are woven throughout in ways that make a lot of sense and don't club you over the head.

Worth a Thousand Words: On the Heights

Charles Courtney Curran, On the Heights, c. 1909
via Arts Everyday Living

Well Said: Laden with rites and rituals, lousy with saints and scapulars

Another good 'un found by idly paging through my first quote journal.
When I took my first look at you, my church, I fell madly in love. You were creaky with history, rejuvenated by change, laden with rites and rituals, lousy with saints and scapulars. You dressed gaudily with bells and smells, charms and mysteries. You were deep. You had style. I chose you. You were the kind of lover to make a mother say, "Stay away from that one! Trouble!"
Carol Bonomo

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Well Said: The droplet of water and God's mercy

Still dipping into my first quote journal.
Suddenly the wave crashed at my feet. … When I looked up, I noticed that a tiny droplet of water had hit the top of my hand. It was so beautiful. It glistened like a diamond in the sun.

The droplet affected me so deeply with its beauty that I felt unworthy of it, and to my own surprise, as I stood there, I threw it back into the ocean.

My odd little peace was broken when I felt the Lord say to me, "Angelica?"

I said, "Yes, Lord?"

"Did you see the drop?"

I said, "Yes, Lord."

"That drop is like all of your sins, your weaknesses, your frailties and your imperfections. And the ocean is like My Mercy. If you looked for that drop, could yu find it?"

I said, "No, Lord."

"If you looked and looked, could you find it?"

I said, "No, Lord."

And then He said to me, ever so quietly. "So why do you keep looking?"
Mother Angelica

A Movie You Might Have Missed #52: Sullivan's Travels

"Nothing is going to stop me. 
I'm going to find out how it feels to be in trouble. 
Without friends, without credit, without checkbook, without name. Alone."

#52. Sullivan's Travels

Oooo, la la!
How is this for a suggestive poster?
Preston Sturgis' comedy is all about the need for humor in hard times.

A pampered movie director feels that the depression going on calls for serious, hard-hitting movies that explain the current social and economic problems to the public. His producers tell him, au contraire, hard times call for light-hearted movies to take your mind off your troubles.

To prove them wrong and experience those hard times, the director disguises himself as a hobo and takes to the road. After several botched attempts, during one of which he meets Veronica Lake as the romantic interest, he accomplishes his goal accidentally and better than he ever would have thought.

At this point the movie takes a darker turn but this is when it is most effective. Especially touching is the scene in the church where the poor black congregation and convicts from a local work farm are laughing at Pluto and Mickey Mouse.

Highly recommended although Preston Sturgis is no Frank Capra, however much he wants to be (which is cleverly mentioned early in the movie). Also it was fun to see where "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou" came from, which was used by the Coen Brothers in the movie of the same name.

Worth a Thousand Words: Just So Stories

Just So frontispiece
by Himmapaan
‘…he was a small ‘Stute Fish, and he swam a little behind the whale’s right ear, so as to be out of harm’s way’

Monday, January 18, 2016

Worth a Thousand Word: Exotic lunch!

Taken by my brother and posted to Facebook. Too good not to share.

Well Said: what we are at this moment, is planned to be like that

I've been dipping into my very first quote journal and have been enjoying it so much that I'm taking y'all with me. After all, that's the point of a quote journal, right? To revisit the quotes because they were so good.
There is one big thing we can do with God's help, that is, we can trust God's plan, we can put aside any quibbling or bitterness about ourselves and what we are.

We can accept and seize upon the fact that what we are at this moment, young or old, strong or weak, mild or passionate, beautiful or ugly, clever or stupid, is planned to be like that. Whatever we are gives form to the emptiness in us which can only be filled by God, and which God is even now waiting to fill.
Caryll Houselander
This not only reassures me about qualities that I perceive as failings, but makes me ponder the nature of God (ineffable as that is). What does it show me about God, that all these variables are part of His plan? And what does it say about me that I am continually surprised by this idea?

Friday, January 15, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: A Night of Lights

A Night of Lights
by the talented Edward B. Gordon

Well Said: We could never learn

We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.
Helen Keller

Lenten Reading: Two New Books to Consider

Lent begins early this year — February 10.

We might as well begin thinking about what to read. These two are a good start.

Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and EastertideBetween Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide by Sarah Arthur
Between Midnight and Dawn uses your imagination to draw you deeper into God’s presence. Join poets and novelists from across the centuries as you travel through the liturgical seasons of Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide. This collection of daily and weekly readings from classic and contemporary literature uses both new voices and well-loved classics such as Dostoevsky, Rossetti, and Eliot. 
I really loved Sarah Arthur's first devotional, At the Still Point, which was for ordinary time. It was an unusual devotional with thematically arranged classic and contemporary fiction and poetry. Of course, that was right down my alley and it became a favorite devotional. I can vouch that Arthur does a wonderful job of choosing pieces that speak both to poetic or literary content and to the Christian message.

At the time I reviewed it, I wished for devotionals to cover the rest of the liturgical year. Arthur obliged with  Light Upon Light for Advent. Now with Between Midnight and Dawn for Lent and Easter, my wishes have come true. I'll be using this throughout Lent and Easter.

Seven Last Words: An Invitation to a Deeper Friendship with JesusSeven Last Words: An Invitation to a Deeper Friendship with Jesus by James Martin
Each meditation is dedicated to one of the seven sayings:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

“Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

“Woman, this is your son” . . . “This is your mother.”

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

“I thirst.”

“It is finished.”

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Jesus’s final statements, words that are deeply cherished by his followers, exemplify the depth of his suffering but also provide a key to his empathy and why we can connect with him so deeply.
There can hardly be any better Lenten reading than meditations on the seven last words of Christ. This book originated when James Martin was invited by Cardinal Dolan to give a series of Good Friday reflections last year. Having read several I feel we are lucky to have them for deeper contemplation. I will be using this book during Passion Week this year.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Vole Hunting

Vole Hunting
taken by the incomparable Remo Savisaar

Well Said: Our Time Machines

We all have our time machines, don't we? Those that take us back are memories ... And those that carry us forward are dreams.
The Time Machine (2012 film)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: St Mark's Square, Venice

St Mark's Square, Venice; William Logsdail; 1883
via The Athenaeum
Be sure to click through on the link above to see this photo full size. You can't really appreciate its rich complexity otherwise.

Well Said: Turning into stones

"Wisely said, Mark," cried Martin. "We must look forward."

"In all the story-books as I ever read, sir, the people as looked backward was turned into stones," replied Mark; "and my opinion always was, that they brought it on themselves, and it served 'em right. I wish you good night, sir, and pleasant dreams."
Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit
Mark is Sam Weller's true heir (Pickwick Papers) and I always brighten up when he appears in the pages. His notion of "jollity" resonates with Catholic sensibilities, maintaining that "jollity" isn't worth anything unless you maintain it under trying circumstances.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Zojo-ji in Shiba

Hasui Kawase, Zojo-ji in Shiba, 1925
via Arts Everyday Living

Well Said: Early to Bed, Early to Rise ...

At length it became high time to remember the first clause of that great discovery made by the ancient philosopher, for securing health, riches, and wisdom; the infallibility of which has been for generations verified by the enormous fortunes constantly amassed by chimneysweepers and other persons who get up early and go to bed betimes. The young ladies accordingly rose ...
Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit
Made me laugh at the same time as I was realizing just how many examples we have of that old adage not being true.

Pro-Life March in Dallas: Saturday, Jan. 16

Everything seems to be coming fast this year. Lent begins in a month. Our goddaughter's birthday is in a couple of weeks.

And the Dallas Pro-Life March is this Saturday.

To be fair, the March always takes me by surprise. I think it's because I've just managed to get back out of the holiday calendar and back into regular schedules so I'm not thinking about anything "extra."

This is an "extra" that should just be a matter of course. We've been thrilled to watch attendance grow steadily from 1,000 when we began attending in 2008, to close to 10,000 last year.

The politicians and media only seem to understand numbers. If everyone who believed abortion is wrong took part of a Saturday to stand in person for what they believe, they would have to sit up and take notice.

Here's the website with the Dallas schedule and information.

Join us!

Scott and Julie kick off 2016 with Hugo nominated author John C. Wright

He joins us to discuss the first Star Wars and the newest Star Wars. As well as story, myth, and all that jazz. Join us for Episode 124 of A Good Story is Hard to Find.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Well Said: Messages from beyond the grave

That's what literature is. It's the people who went before us, tapping out messages from the past, from beyond the grave, trying to tell us about life and death! Listen to them!
Connie Willis, Passage
Preach it, sistah!

Worth a Thousand Words: A Song Sweetly Sung

A Song Sweetly Sung, Jan Frederik Pieter Portielje (Dutch, 1829-1895).
Via Books and Art

7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas

7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When Rickey asked Jackie if he was up to the job, he wasn't talking only about playing great baseball. He knew Jackie could do that. What he meant, he explained, was that if Jackie were to become major-league baseball's first black player, he would be in for a tremendous amount of abuse, both verbal and physical.

Jackie said he was sure he could face up to whatever came his way. He wasn't afraid of anyone and had been in any number of fistfights over the years when anyone had challenged him.

But Rickey had something else in mind. "I know you're a good ballplayer," Rickey said. "What I don't know is whether you have the guts." Rickey knew he meant something dramatically different from what Robinson was thinking, so he continued. "I'm looking," Rickey said, "for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back."

This was an unexpected wrinkle, to put it mildly.


Jackie knew that resisting the urge to fight back really would require a superhuman effort, but he was deeply moved by Rickey's vision. He thought of his mother. He thought of all the black people who deserved someone to break this ground for them, even if it was difficult. He believed God had chosen him for this noble purpose. He believed he had to do it--for black kids, for his mother, for his wife, for himself.
Eric Metaxas wrote this book to ask two questions: (1) What is a man? (2)What makes a man great? He answers them by looking at the lives of seven men who are worthy of emulation.

Metaxas initially caught my interest by pointing out that today manhood is often denigrated in popular culture because of a lack of positive role models. These days the news is more likely to have stories about men using their gifts in negative ways than in heroic behavior. For example, a man misuses his strength by being bullying or domineering which is the opposite of what it should be used for, to protect those who are weaker.

He then tells the stories of seven men who lived their lives in ways we can admire. These biographies are short but pack in a lot of information. They cover a diverse group including Jackie Robinson, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Chuck Colson. Even when I thought I knew everything pertinent about someone like George Washington or Eric Liddell, Metaxas was able to show a whole new side to them.

Each story turns on the fact that they surrendered themselves to God and sacrificed themselves in some way for the greater good. Metaxas isn't heavy handed but he doesn't shy away from occasionally raising points that encourage the reader to look deeper within his (or her) own heart.

I came away inspired and with several new heroes. It's early in the year but I already have a book to put on my "2016 Best" list.

Guns, gimlets, gumshoes, and yes, a very long goodbye ...

We talk all about this classic detective story by wordmeister Raymond Chandler. Nobody wrote 'em better.  Join Jesse, Seth, Maissa and me at SFFaudio for some hardboiled fun!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words:

Ballet School. Jules René Hervé (French, 1887-1981).
Via Books and Art

Listen Up: One Podcast and Two Classic Books

These have given me a great deal of listening pleasure, so I wanted to be sure you knew about them.

Lanky Guys

A weekly attempt to draw some meaning and humor out of the sacred treasury of the Scriptures in the context of the liturgy.
Our deacon recommended these to me and I'm hooked.

Fr. Peter Mussett and Scott Powell get us ready for each Sunday by taking us through the scriptures. They read each one aloud and dig deeper into context and background about historical, scriptural and liturgical connections. They combine scholarship, humor, and joy which makes the time fly by.

You can pick them up at their website, Lanky Guys, or on iTunes.

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and PrejudiceI loved Pride and Prejudice all through my youth, but never explored any of Austen's other novels. Finally having filled that gap in my education a few years ago, Pride and Prejudice sank from favorite to mid-range enjoyment for me.

I have narrations of all except this one of Austen's novels because Juliet Stephenson inexplicably only did an abridged version of it. When Rosamund Pike's new narration came out it was lauded by so many, including Orson Scott Card, that I thought it might be the fitting reading to match the others I love so much.

It is all that and more. Pike's narration raises Pride and Prejudice to the level of the sparkling, delightful tale I loved so much when I was young. In some ways it is as if I was reading it for the first time. Highly recommended.

Around the World in 80 Days 

Around the World in 80 DaysWhen I discovered the talented Jim Dale had narrated a new translation of this classic adventure, I began searching ... and was pleased to see that my faithful library had a copy.

I'm not sure if it is the narration or the translation or both, but it is as if this story has new life in it. No one does it better than Jim Dale or this translator. Also Listening Library added occasional sound effects and appropriate music. At first I found it distracting but later it enhanced sense of travel and adventure.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: In the Wild North

Ivan Shishkin, In the Wild North, 1891
via Arts Everyday Living
You know, at first glance, I could've sworn this was a photograph. Extraordinary!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Sun and Moon Flowers

George Dunlop Leslie, Sun and Moon Flowers, 1890
via Arts Everyday Living

Fields of Wrath: A tough, fascinating mystery with spiritual implications

Fields of Wrath (Luis Chavez, #1)Fields of Wrath by Mark Wheaton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Following his ordination as a priest, Father Luis Chavez returns to the mean streets of his youth, hoping to put his past behind him. But the brutal murder of a worker in Ventura County’s vast farm fields compels Luis to return to his criminal roots in order to unravel a massive conspiracy. Teaming up with Michael Story, an ambitious Los Angeles deputy DA, Chavez goes undercover as a farm laborer to bring down an immense human-trafficking ring tied to one of California’s most prominent and powerful families.

Fighting to stay on the path of the righteous while confronting evil at every turn, Father Chavez finds himself in a battle of good versus evil, with the souls of hundreds hanging in the balance.
I picked this up as a Kindle First free for Amazon Prime. It was a wonderful surprise.

There is a nuanced look at different priests in a large L.A. parish. One of those priests is Luis Chavez, a former gangbanger who found God and wound up back in his home town. There is a Mexican man who was harassed by cops his entire life and took the unusual path of becoming an officer himself to do it the right way. There are desperate illegal immigrants, crooked lawmen, and scheming corporation managers.

They've all got their own problems in real life and on the job. In other words, these are more interesting and complex characters than I often find in a mystery, whether free or otherwise. The mystery is involved and the writing is good to boot.

Most of all I like the way the Catholic faith is represented through Father Luis. We see him in many encounters with various priests, believers, scoffers, and acquaintances from the old life. No one is neutral and many challenge him. Yet Father Luis never seems to hit a false note. He's sincere, honest, and nonjudgmental while somehow never being soft about the things that count. The author never makes the mistake of attributing too much to God or presenting a cynical or overly deferential view of the Church. This is really refreshing.

Come for the mystery. Stay for Father Luis.

Here's hoping there will be a second mystery featuring the good father.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Well Said: Christmas

Something seasonal from the quote journal.
For the spirit of Christmas fulfils the greatest hunger of mankind.
Loring A. Schuler

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens


This was everything we hoped for. A return to the way the first Star Wars movies felt - adventure, excitement, romance (a bit anyway), and fun.

I liked the way the movie paralleled the first one, with little bits of the second two thrown in where needed, providing just enough context to see that one person's story is never quite finished. Also that it's always about families and friends, the people we love and fight while we're trying to accomplish bigger goals. That age old truth works really well here.

And it fixes the problem with the second trilogy. The new Darth's "issues" connect with us in a way that couldn't happen before.

I also like what Mrs. Darwin wrote about Finn and Rey's relationship. It wouldn't have occurred to me to think about it that way but I definitely agree with her. It was also refreshing, for one thing, to see a strong female who wasn't as pushy as Leia or as wishy-washy as Amidala. Rey was just herself, a natural product of her environment. Huzzah!

We were also thrilled to see John Boyega. We loved him in Attack the Block, one of our favorite movies, and it is nice to see his talent appreciated with this choice role. I also thought it was a genius move to show a Stormtrooper's point of view. They might be clones but they are still people and this acknowledges that.

I've seen various people complaining about different things but I think they are looking for something this movie is not meant to be. The Force Awakens made us feel the way we felt when we saw the original Star Wars. As young college students, my friends and I left the theater excited, happy, and thrilled to see an opening for a sequel. This delivered that same feeling.

Here's hoping the next one is as strong as The Empire Strikes Back. Well done, J.J. Abrams!

Friday, January 1, 2016

2016 Book Challenge

You can find my 2015 Book Challenge here, with the results recorded. I went off target about halfway through the year and yet that list prompted me to do some reading I'd never have done otherwise — like poetry — which was very rewarding.

This year, considering the lack of attention I paid last year, I thought about not doing a list. However, I realized I do actually have some goals for this year. They are fewer and more focused, which is all to the good.

  1. Dante's Divine Comedy [done]
    I feel as if this is going to be my year of Dante. Last year my interest in Louis Markos' Heaven and Hell put Dante on my mind. I began reading Anthony Esolen's translation. I wanted to read through with as little use of notes as possible this time through.

    I read John Ciardi's translation my first time around.

    Once I finished the Esolen translation, I began listening to the Benedict Flynn translations which were done specifically for audio and read by Heathcote Williams. They were simply fantastic and added to my understanding of the book (at least on the surface level).

    And then I read it a third time for conversations at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. And a FOURTH for my Catholic women's book club! I didn't intend a Year of Dante but it turned out that way! 
     - Inferno (Good Story #135) - Purgatorio (Good Story #137) - Paradiso (Good Story #139)

  2. Finish Dickens' novels: [done]
      Martin Chuzzlewitliked this despite expecting to hate it because Dickens' savages America in the middle. That part was so one-dimensional that it slid right off of me. 
      Mystery of Edwin Droodread this one last. Liked it even though it was only half finished upon Dickens' death.
      Hard Times — the biggest surprise of all was liking this book which I'd heard was dour, dark and ... hard. Loved it!

  3. Reread Middlemarch — never did it
    I've been wanting to do this for the last half of 2015. It's time to let it happen.

  4. Use my "To Read" list
    I have pages listed of interesting fiction and nonfiction titles that I never get to because something shiny distracts me to the latest new thing. No more! There is a reason I wrote those names down. I need to try them out!

  5. Read the Bible in Chronological Order - ADDED IN APRIL
    Now I won't be doing this in a year, but it is a new reading goal, so I'm tossing it in here in case anyone else is interested. I'll keep track of what I've read here (fingers crossed I remember) — I actually have been doing this pretty regularly and enjoying the heck out of it. It has led to some surprising realizations. For example, did you know that when Isaiah was prophesying doom and gloom initially ... there were several other prophets also doing the same thing? And still no one listened. Oy veh! I'll be continuing this in 2017.

  1. Use my "To Watch" list
    It's the same problem I have with books. So many reviews have prompted me to keep lists of movies and then I never use the list! No more!