Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What I've Been Reading — A Mystery and Some Inspiration

The Green Jacket by Jennette Lee

This 1917 book features a female detective who is so good that when the book opens she is being asked to merge with the other big detective agency in town. We soon learn that this lady has her own unique, independent thoughts about criminal justice. And, of course, a mystery soon comes along!

This is an unusual and winning story, the likes of which I haven't encountered before in a book of this sort. In some ways it is almost poetic. In Millie's approach to crime solving it is unique. The use of knitting is like a reversal of Madame DeFarge. Certainly in her insistence on the chance to rehabilitate criminals it is original to the period.

I listened to the audiobook read by one of my favorites from LibriVox, J. M. Smallheer. It is practically impossible to find the two sequels but I'm going to keep my eyes open for them.

I'm pretty sure I'll be featuring this on Forgotten Classic in the near future. It really captured me.

The Joy of Knowing Christ: Meditations on the Gospels by Pope Benedict XVI

This was a gift from a thoughtful reader of Happy Catholic and listener to A Good Story is Hard to Find.

The Joy of Knowing Christ is a selection of 55 excerpts from different homilies throughout the liturgical year. The selections all focus on reflections on gospel passages and, in many cases, opened up new meanings for me. I found them inspirational also and often went to the Vatican website to read the entire homily which was excerpted.

They are very accessible and short, usually no longer than two pages. That makes them perfect for daily reflection, which is how I used them. Highly recommended.

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Movie You Might Have Missed #61: Cat People

To kiss her meant death.

Sketch artist Irena Dubrovna (Simon) and American architect Oliver Reed (Smith) fall in love and marry after a brief courtship. But Irena believes that she suffers from an ancient curse and won’t consummate the union for fear that she will turn into a panther compelled to kill her lover.
I see why this is one of Roger Ebert's Great Movies. We watched it because it was the first hit by famed producer Val Lewton and the movie that saved RKO from financial ruin. This little gem cost about $140,000 but made $4 million in two years. In 1942. Talk about a blockbuster!

The overtones of inevitable inherited evil, the use of light and shadow, the wonderful sets, and the unspoken simmering sexual tension (not even a kiss for her long suffering husband) all add up to much more than 73 minutes of routine old horror film.

We wanted to find a city like the one they lived in, also — with that cozy, overstuffed pet shop and the quirky Sally Lunn restaurant. Where else can you get Chicken Gumbo with a cheese plate to finish?

Worth a Thousand Words: Cartoon Bookplate

Via Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie

Doesn't every book lover need this book plate? I know I do!

Well Said: Drawing a Giraffe

Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If in your bold creative way you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits.... This is certainly the case with all artistic creation, which is in some ways the most decisive example of pure will. The artist loves his limitations: they constitute the thing he is doing.
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Well Said: What to tell people

If you want people to stay the same, tell them what they want to hear. If you want people to change, tell them what they need to know.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Worth a Thousand Words: Waxwing

Waxwing, taken by Remo Savisaar

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Station to Station by Gary Jansen

Though traditionally considered a meditation on suffering, the Stations of the Cross is more than a simple, ancient act of piety. It is a portrait of grace under pressure, a collection of specific reactions from Jesus during times of crisis. In our current age of global terrorism, economic uncertainty, widespread and severe depression and anxiety, and environmental devastation, the Stations offer us an opportunity to strengthen our souls and grow the mystical muscles of our hearts. Using the basics of Ignatian prayer, in particular imaginative prayer, we can hop aboard a time machine that takes us back to the final moments in Christ's life. Here, we can not only meditate on sorrow, but also ask two essential questions: how did Jesus respond to suffering, and how do we?
If Catholics think about the Stations of the Cross, it is most likely associated with Lent and the familiar stations in every Catholic church.

Gary Jansen breaks out of that mold by meditating on the stations against the backdrop of our own everyday lives. Using imaginative prayer, the stations can become the stepping stones of a path to spiritual awakening. To do this Jansen first gives a brief history of the stations of the cross, discusses imaginative (Ignatian prayer) and tells how praying the stations changed his life.

The second half of the book takes us through each of the stations one by one. Jansen is using the scriptural stations introduced by Pope John Paul II in 1991. I discovered these when poking around the Vatican website one day and was immediately captured by them. So I was delighted to see that the  author was using them as the focal point for prayer.

Each station gives us the appropriate scripture, Jesus's response, a way to encounter Jesus, a bit of scripture as a prayer guide, and a guide to reviewing and imagining the station. These, of course, are flavored with Jansen's own experiences and realizations which help to see the ways that God uses the meditations to speak to your own life. I was struck, for example, by Jansen's own reflection on Judas's betrayal that we are not emptied when we are betrayed but rather bloated with paralyzing inner talk about it.

This would be a great Lenten book, of course — hey, it's the stations! More importantly it is a book to use daily so that the stations become not a "special occasion" prayer but one that enriches us always.

Well Said: One Must Face Facts

He stared at Poirot. Then he said: "I thought — you were on her side."

Hercule Poirot said: "Whatever side one is on, one must face facts! I think, Mr. Walman, that you have so far preferred in life to avoid facing an awkward truth whenever it is possible.
Agatha Christie, Sad Cypress

Worth a Thousand Words: Le Chef de L’Hotel

William Orpen, Le Chef de L’Hotel Chatham, Paris, 1921
via Arts Everyday Living

Genesis Notes: God's Covenant with Abram

As familiar as I am with the part of Genesis where Sarai and Abram are promised children and then instantly go astray by bringing in their own methods, I didn't remember this chapter at all which involves God speaking to Abram and conducting matters in a very ceremonial way. Certainly I never realized that this is the first prayer recorded in the Bible.

The Vision of the Lord Directing Abram to Count the Stars, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld
In this very first prayer recorded in the Bible, several characteristics are worth remembering:
  1. It is God drawing near to Abram that draws forth a prayer from him. As the Catechism says, "In prayer, the faithful God's initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response. As God gradually reveals himself and reveals man to himself, prayer appears as a reciprocal call, a covenant drama." (2567)
  2. Abram is honest with God. He pours out his anxieties and doubts. He is not afraid to say what he thinks.
  3. Abram not only speaks to God, but he also listens to Him as well. There is a word of truth from God that he must hear, even though he has many of his own thoughts and words. God does not add anything new to His promise. Abram will simply have to think about it in a new way.
  4. Abram spends some time in silence, looking at the stars and considering God's promise. The silent pondering of the stars may look like nothing is happening, yet it is the occasion of Abram's movement from doubt to faith.
  5. Abram performs an act of faith. He consciously sets aside his doubts and puts his trust in God, which makes him pleasing to God.
In this introduction to prayer, we see that it is a response to God's love. It is honest and intimate. It is a conversation, with speaking and listening. It includes silence, and it leads to a conscious act of faith.
When Abram falls asleep my interpretation is that he is having a very deep vision. It also serves to remind us of several other things.
Abram's deep sleep is reminiscent of Adam's sleep, when God solved the only problem he had in Eden, which was being alone. It perhaps represents man's ultimate inability to solve his own problems or ensure his own fate. It underscores dramatically how divine initiative and human helplessness come together to accomplish God's loving purposes (think of the sleeping apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane, upon whom Christ intended to build His Church).
All quotes from Genesis, Part II: God and His Family. This series first ran in 2004 and 2005. I'm refreshing it as I go. For links to the whole study, go to the Genesis Index. For more about the resources used, go here.

Sauage and White Bean Gratin, Hot and Sour Soup, and Much More!

Hannah's been loading up Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen with a lot of new recipes. I love a good Sausage and White Bean Gratin and am interested to try her version. See what you find there to try!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Study of a Cow

Rosa Bonheur, Study of a Cow, circa 1840

Julie and Scott try to claim the reward for Julian the Apostate's death ...

... even though they were nowhere near the place. Mike Aquilina stops talking to Basil the Great just long enough to clear their names.

Episode 150 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast, with special guest Mike Aquilina, covers The Last Pagan by Adrian Murdoch. Get it now!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Novena to St. Joseph

From way back in 2007 and then in 2013. Thought I'd bring it up again for anyone who might be interested. 

Also the seven Sundays begin next Sunday so this is a good time to remember this novena. I'll have posts with reflections on those days as they arrive.

Christ in the House of his Parents by John Everett Millais
via Wikipedia
O glorious Saint Joseph, faithful follower of Jesus Christ, to you we raise our hearts and hands to ask your powerful intercession in obtaining from the compassionate heart of Jesus all the helps and graces necessary for our spiritual and temporal welfare, particularly the grace of a happy death, and the special grace for which we now ask.

(Mention your request)

O guardian of the Word Incarnate, we feel animated with confidence that your prayers for us will be graciously heard at the throne of God.

(The following is to be said seven times in honor of the seven joys and seven sorrows of Saint Joseph:)

O glorious Saint Joseph, through the love you bear for Jesus Christ, and for the glory of hs name, hear our prayers and grant our petitions.

This novena can be practiced at any time of year. It is particularly effective if done for the seven Sundays prior to the feast of Saint Joseph in honor of his seven sorrows and seven joys. Say this novena nine days in a row.
I was asked if I knew a good novena for job seeking. I don't know a specific one but as Saint Joseph is the patron saint of, among other things, family protection, fathers, and work, this seemed appropriate. Also, I dig St. Joseph.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Day of Prayer and Penance for Life

In February 2002, the Catholic Church established that throughout the United States,
January 22nd would be observed as a day of prayer and penance against abortion:
“In all the dioceses of the United States of America, January 22 (or January 23, when January 22 falls on a Sunday) shall be observed as a particular day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion, and of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life. The Mass 'For Peace and Justice' (no. 22 of the 'Masses for Various Needs') should be celebrated with violet vestments as an appropriate liturgical observance for this day.”

– General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 373
Read more at Aquinas and More where they have a good explanation and also some ideas if you are not sure what you want to do.

I'm posting this a day early so it won't be a complete surprise.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Messages on Cold Ground

Messages on cold ground…, Edward B. Gordon

Well Said: The task of a Christian

The task of a Christian is to drown evil in an abundance of good. It is not a question of negative campaigns, or of being "anti" anything. On the contrary, we should live positively, full of optimism, with youthfulness, joy and peace. We should be understanding with everybody, with the followers of Christ and with those who abandon him, or with those who have never known him at all. Understanding does not mean holding back, or remaining indifferent, but being active.* We need to have the initiative, to want everyone to see the lovable face of Christ.

Francis Fernandez, In Conversation with God, vol. 3
* Josemaria Escriva, Furrow

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Restored to Life — After a 72-Hour Stomach Virus

Ahhh, it feels good to have something besides ginger ale!

And it's good to be back to the blog. Except for the Genesis study post which I prepared ahead of time, it's been a bit blank around here. Now that I'm back at the computer things will get back to normal soon.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Genesis Notes: Melchizedek's Resume

I love these resumes from the Life Application Bible. They really have a way of focusing us on important information we might otherwise have missed in the bigger story.

Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek, Dieric Bouts the Elder, 1464–67
This meeting between Abram and Melchizedek was most unusual. Although the two men were strangers and foreigners to each other, they shared a most important characteristic: both worshiped and served the one God who made heaven and earth. This was a great moment of triumph for Abram, about whose victory it was. Melchizedek set the record straight by reminding Abram "Blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand" (Genesis 14:20). Abram recognized that this man worshiped the same God he did.

Melchizedek was one of a small group of God-honoring throughout the Old Testament who came in contact with the Jews (Israelites) but were not Jews themselves. This indicates that the requirement to be a follower of God is not genetic, but is based on faithfully obeying his teachings and recognizing his greatness.

Strengths and accomplishments:
  • The first priest/king of Scripture -- a leader with a heart tuned to God
  • Good at encouraging others to serve God wholeheartedly
  • A man whose character reflected his love for God
  • A person in the Old Testament who reminds us of Jesus and who some believe really was Jesus
Lesson from his life:
  • Live for God and you're likely to be at the right place at the right time ...
Vital statistics:
  • Where: Ruled Salem, the site of the future Jerusalem
  • Occupation: King of Salem and priest of God Most High
Key verse:
"This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him ... Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder!" (Hebrews 7:1, 4)

Melchizedek's story is told in Genesis 14:17-20. He also is mentioned in Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5-7.

All material quoted is from the Life Application Study Bible. This series first ran in 2004 and 2005. I'm refreshing it as I go. For links to the whole study, go to the Genesis Index. For more about the resources used, go here.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: It's Good Together

It's Good Together
taken by Remo Savisaar

Well Said: The prophet is a person

The prophet is not a mouthpiece, but a person; not an instrument, but a partner, an associate of God. Emotional detachment would be understandable only if there were a command which required the suppression of emotion, forbidding one to serve God "with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might." God, we are told, asks not only for "works," for action, but above all for love, awe, and fear. ... You will seeke Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13).
Abraham Heschel, The Prophets
This makes me think of the famous words of one of the most human of all prophets, Jeremiah. It is a personal experience which fully requires the participation of the prophet.
You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. ...

I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.
(Jer. 20:7, 9)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Well Said: Eyewitnesses to God

There are no proofs for the existence of the God of Abraham. There are only eyewitnesses. The greatness of the prophet lies not only n the ideas he expressed, but also in the moments he experienced. The prophet is a witness and his words a testimony — to His power and judgment, to His justice and mercy.
Abraham Heschel, The Prophets

Worth a Thousand Words: The Lovers

Emile Friant, Les Amoureux, 1888
via Arts Everyday Living

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Well Said: Few are guilty, but all are responsible.

Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible. If we admit that the individual is in some measure conditioned or affected by the spirit of society, an individual's crime discloses society's corruption. In a community not indifferent to suffering, uncompromisingly impatient with cruelty and falsehood, continually concerned for God and every man, crime would be infrequent rather than common.
Abraham Heschel, The Prophets

Worth a Thousand Words: Passing Storm

Passing Storm, Arthur Parton, Date unknown

Genesis Notes: Melchizedek

Melchizedek is only shown to us one time and yet we are reminded of him with the familiar phrase from Hebrews that Jesus is a high priest "after the order of Melchizedek." You wouldn't think there'd be a whole lot to learn from one little "walk on" part. However, as is so often the case with Scripture, there is a whole lot more to it as we can see here.

Melchizedek and Abraham. Painted Limoges enamel plaque, 1560-1570.
Most modern biblical scholarship sees in Melchizedek a pre-figuring of Christ; some scholars suggest that it was actually an appearance of Christ to Abram. He is a mysterious figure. The early tradition of the Church, which continued well up to the time of the Reformation, was influenced by the Jewish rabbinic teaching that Melchizedek was actually Shem, the firstborn son of Noah who lived a very long time. This is a compelling idea. Shem was the one on whom Noah's blessing had rested. He was destined to be a master over the Canaanites. His priesthood was domestic; that is, the one who conducted the worship of God and through whom the blessing of God was received was the head of the family. We have seen this in Noah and Abram. This role was passed from father to firstborn son.

If, in fact, Shem is Melchizedek (this name is more of a title than a name), as the Fathers taught (even Martin Luther understood and taught this), what can we make of the description of him in Hebrews 7:1-10 (please read)? In Heb. 7:3, he is described as "without father or mother or genealogy, and has neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever." In order to understand this statement, we need to know something about the Levitical priesthood in Israel, with which Melchizedek's priesthood is contrasted in the verses that follow.

The Levitical priesthood was instituted in Israel at the time of a great apostasy, a grave turning away from the covenant God had made with His people (see Exodus 32:25-29). Before that time, the priesthood had been a domestic one, as we have seen in Genesis thus far, passed from father to firstborn son. Due to the circumstances of its institution, the Levitical priesthood must be seen as inferior to the earlier one. The writer of Hebrews makes this clear. Additionally, by the time of the writing of Hebrews, the Levitical priesthood featured certain restrictions. A man could not become a priest until he was 30 and had to retire when he was 50. He also had to prove his Levitical (of the tribe of Levi) genealogy through both his father and his mother (this had become important when Israel returned to its land after foreign exile, in about 500 B.C.; there was careful attention to lineage in order to prevent any foreign corruption in the priesthood).

The priesthood of Melchizedek was not that way. There was no need for the Levitical attention to parental lineage ("He is without father or mother or genealogy..."). There was no start and end of his service ("neither beginning of days nor end of life"). It would be this kind of royal priesthood that Jesus would have (prophesied of the Messiah long before by King David in Psalm 110:4). His was the superior priesthood of the firstborn son, not the Levitical one. God's own Son became High Priest. Melchizedek was a type of the One Who was to come.]
All quotes from Genesis, Part II: God and His Family. This series first ran in 2004 and 2005. I'm refreshing it as I go. For links to the whole study, go to the Genesis Index. For more about the resources used, go here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

What We're Watching: Sneaky Pete

A con man (Giovanni Ribisi) on the run from a vicious gangster (Bryan Cranston) takes cover from his past by assuming the identity of his prison cellmate, Pete, "reuniting" with Pete's estranged family, a colorful, dysfunctional group that threatens to drag him into a world just as dangerous as the one he's trying to escape - and, just maybe, give him a taste of the loving family he's never had.
We saw an ad for this last weekend while watching Green Bay pound the Giants and were intrigued.

We were even more intrigued when we saw that Graham Yost from Justified was running it. Along with Bryan Cranston whose involvement sealed the deal. We were impressed that not only is he involved in producing it but he is not the star. Talented and willing to let someone else star. (Is there anyone who doesn't love that guy?).

The pilot was entertaining, smart, and hit the right notes. We're really looking forward to the series which will begin this week.

The City, Not Long After by Pat Murphy

The City, Not Long After by Pat Murphy

Never has a tale of post-apocalyptic America been so gently told. It was surprising and unusual and I'm surprised I never heard of Pat Murphy before my mother urged me to try this book.

After The Plague decimates the country, the cities are all cut off from each other. San Francisco is populated largely by artists whose whims are transforming the city into something otherworldly. When they get word that they are the next target for a military cult, they decide they will fight the war their way — with art.

This had a dreamy, fantastic quality that I really liked. I especially liked Murphy's imaginings of how artists would shape the raw material of an abandoned city to show their vision. And it is an unusual book which made me delight in the way the war was fought. Some of the attacks which repelled the conventional soldiers actually made me laugh out loud. Creative and diabolical, while still somehow remaining essentially peaceful.

Worth a Thousand Words: Colts for a Cowman

Via Pulp Covers
Colts for a Cowman, sure ... but I see he needs help from the gutsy dame in the saloon.

Dare we dream - an all Texas Super Bowl?

Friday, January 6, 2017

Well Said: A good question

Our obstetrician, a squat, gruff, no-nonsense Italian American woman, responded to the [natural childbirth] fad sarcastically. "Since when did nature become our friend?" she asked. It was a good question.
Andrew Klavan, The Great Good Thing

Worth a Thousand Words: The Journal Readers

The Journal Readers (c.1660-1670). Jan Steen (Dutch, c.1625-1679).
via Books and Art

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: The Mummy

Via Not Pulp Covers

Well Said: Overcoming the Test That Freedom Entails

Today, the Gospel reminds us that Jesus, after being baptized in the River Jordan and impelled by the Holy Spirit who settled upon him and revealed him as the Christ, withdrew for 40 days into the Desert of Judea where he overcame the temptations of Satan (cf. Mk 1: 12-13). Following their Teacher and Lord, Christians also enter the Lenten desert in spirit in order to face with him the "fight against the spirit of evil".


In meditating on this biblical passage, we understand that to live life to the full in freedom we must overcome the test that this freedom entails, that is, temptation. Only if he is freed from the slavery of falsehood and sin can the human person, through the obedience of faith that opens him to the truth, find the full meaning of his life and attain peace, love and joy.
Pope Benedict XVI, The Joy of Knowing Christ
Angelus, March 5, 2006
Another choice bit from this book I'm enjoying so much. Of course, it is actually still Christmas but we face temptations no matter what time of year it is. I especially love that phrase "to live life to the full in freedom we must overcome the test that this freedom entails..." Without temptation and the chance to resist it, we would not be free ... or human ... at all. Something I must keep in mind when I am struggling along.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: A Wild Sea at Choshi

Katsushika Hokusai, A Wild Sea at Choshi, c. 1833
Via Arts Everyday Living

Well Said: Gospel and Emperors

In Jesus' time, the term "gospel" was used by Roman emperors for their proclamations. Independently of their content, they were described as "good news" or announcements of salvation, because the emperor was considered lord of the world and his every edict as a portent of good. Thus, the application of this phrase to Jesus' preaching had a strongly critical meaning, as if to say God, and not the emperor, is Lord of the world, and the true Gospel is that of Jesus Christ.
Pope Benedict XVI, The Joy of Knowing Christ
I'm really enjoying this book as a daily devotional. Each section is a two-page reflection on the gospels, taken from various homilies. They give me something simple yet profound to think about as I go about my day. We throw around the world gospel so often without stopping to recall the original meaning of good news. And now our eyes are opened to see that in coopting the word "gospel" Matthew is telling us something deeper and more significant than we knew. Context matters so much.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: A Happy New Year Dawn

Taken by my good friend Scott Danielson

Best of 2016 - Movies

My top picks from the movies we watched last year. As always, the movies may be old, but my viewing was brand new in 2016.

Cloud Atlas (2012)

A set of six nested stories spanning time between the 19th century and a distant post-apocalyptic future.

I was stunned at how good this film is. I was amazed at how it would jump from person to person between stories, from moment to moment, and we always knew what was going on, where we were in the story and (most importantly) WHY those moment were parallel. (Ok, maybe not for the first third of the movie. That was the learning phase.)

And by the end, I was in awe that we were watching six completely different genres of movie, along with all the other connections. (Full review here.)

Bridge of Spies (2015)

Insurance lawyer James Donovan is tapped by the government first to defend Rudolph Abel for being a Soviet spy, then to go to Berlin and negotiate an exchange of Abel for American U-2 pilot Gary Powers.

An engrossing drama that pulls us back into the Cold War years or, as in my case, evokes all the spy novels I read about that era.  I really appreciated the reminder that it is tough-minded, ethical people with the ability to see the big picture who helped keep an even keel then.

3:10 to Yuma (1957)

Dave Evans (Van Heflin), a small time farmer, is hired to escort Ben Wade (Glenn Ford), a dangerous outlaw, to Yuma. As Evans and Wade wait for the 3:10 train to Yuma, Wade's gang is racing to free him.

This was a fascinating encounter between two men who have chosen the opposite ways to approach life. Both have regrets, both wrestle with how to live — all in the context of this lean Western. And I never knew Glenn Ford had such a subtle, wicked, serpent-like performance in him.

Tell No One (2016, French)

Eight years ago, Alex's wife was murdered.

Today she emailed him.

Fast paced, excellent thriller. (Full review here.)

Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman (2015)

I picked this up because my husband loves documentaries and race cars. I expected to tolerate it but instead I fell in love with this well rounded, subtle picture of a deeply private man. (Full review here.)

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

We were both delighted way beyond expectation by this classic comedy. We knew Alec Guiness played 8 parts but we didn't expect the wonderful script full of nuances which left us slightly shocked (in a happily funny way). We didn't expect the subplots which gave the film comic depth and kept us interested. We didn't expect the skill with which Dennis Price and Joan Greenwood smoothly played their parts. We certainly didn't expect the twist at the end.

This is definitely a movie that isn't watched enough these days.

Departures (2008 Japan)

When Daigo is laid off of work he and his wife move back to his family home in a small town. Misunderstanding a job description, he finds himself being trained as an "encoffiner" to prepare corpses before their cremation. This puts him in an uncomfortable position since handling the dead is a taboo subject for Japanese.

By turns poignant, funny, and moving, this is one I've thought of a lot since I saw it. (Full review here.)

The Train (1964)

When the Allies are close to Paris, a German officer becomes obsessed with getting a trainload of French art back to Germany. The French Resistance recruits the stationmaster (Burt Lancaster) to help keep the art from leaving France.

A WWII action thriller which pushes us to consider the price of art, national identity and culture against that of human life. I can't stress how excellent Paul Scofield was as the German officer.

Hell or High Water (2016)

Two West Texas brothers begin robbing banks but they aren’t typical robberies. They only take loose bills and target branches of one particular bank. They are pursued by a crusty Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) nearing the end of his career.

This is a heist film crossed with a modern Western. It was everything we hoped it would be and more. The opening with the deliberate framing of the three crosses begs the question throughout the film — is there a "good thief" and what does that mean beyond the easy Hollywood cliche of good intentions?

The Petrified Forest (1936)

A lonely "last stop" gas station near the Petrified Forest brings together a sophisticated wanderer, a young girl longing for adventure, and a gangster who is smarter than he looks.

This classic is known as the film that got Humphrey Bogart noticed, a precursor to film noir, and the first film where the gangster is an American. None of that prepared me for how modern it felt (Slim's character was completely unexpected), how funny it was in places, how artfully it was written, and how wonderful all the acting was. And, yes, Humphrey Bogart was absolutely wonderful in it.

Central Intelligence (2016)

A former picked-on nerd, turned CIA superspy, goes to his high school hero for help on his latest mission.

Its a buddy movie, it's an action movie, it's a comedy, and it's fairly predictable. Also, there is some vulgar humor. But it's not really about jumping through high rise windows or quelling knife wielding opponents with a banana. Though those things do happen.

The heart of this movie is about friendship, heroes, bullying, and knowing what matters in life. That heart is what won me over. As well as Dwayne Johnson who, as so many have pointed out, makes the biggest difference with his sweet smile, sincerity, and comic timing. It's fun and it's got The Rock. What more do you need?

Monday, January 2, 2017

Best of 2016 - Books

My top picks from the books I read last year. You may find old books here but if they're on this list, then they were new to me!

7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness 
by Eric Metaxas
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.

This grabbed both my and Tom's attention. We still talk about the stories and people in this book. (Full review here.)

Also, don't miss his follow-up book about 7 Women. We both liked that one too. (Full review here.)

Slow Horses 
by Mick Herron
A different sort of spy book. Spies who have failed at their jobs get sent to Slough House where they do paperwork.

Funny, suspenseful, intelligent — I loved this and both the sequels. (Full review here.)

We also discussed this on A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Reading Dante 
by Giuseppe Mazzotta
2016 unintentionally became my year of Dante as I wound up reading the Divine Comedy four times. Don't ask how I unintentionally read it four times. Sometimes these things just happen.

Anyway, seeking commentary I found this book by a professor who's been teaching Dante's Comedy for decades and was selected for Open Yale Courses video. Whoever translated those videos into these chapters also deserves praise. I can feel the force of personality as well as the depth of knowledge — all communicated in a very understandable way. This was simply wonderful in deepening my appreciation of the magnificent work Dante did upon The Divine Comedy.

Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler 
by Mark Riebling
Another one that both Tom and I loved. I still think of it frequently.

Nonfiction, by a non-Catholic, defending Pope Pius XII against claims that he supported the Nazi regime. Reads like a spy thriller.

I bet the audiobook would be great. (Full review here.)

The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains 
by Owen Wister
A Western with all the expected trappings: cow-boys, guns, horses, beautiful school mistresses, villainous scoundrels, and the hauntingly beautiful isolation of the Wyoming range.

But, more than that, it is a wonderful character study told in surprisingly contemporary writing. (Full review here.)

Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History 
by Rodney Stark
A wonderful book using facts and statistics to combat lies about the Catholic faith which are still being spread by experts who should know better. In fact, those experts are why the author wrote the book.

As he says in the introduction: "Finally, I am not a Roman Catholic, and I did not write this book in defense of the Church. I wrote it in defense of history." What better reason could there be than that? Truth for truth's sake. (Full review here.)

Lydia Chin / Bill Smith 
mystery series by S.J. Rozan
Lydia Chin is a young American born Chinese woman who is also a Chinatown detective. Bill Smith is older than Lydia and white. His detective work tends to take him to construction sites and security jobs. They often act as partners which works well both for mystery solving and as a story telling device.

The twist in this series is that one book will be told by Lydia and the next told by Bill. The author has a rare talent for writing in completely different voices for both Lydia and Bill.

Enjoyable all round. (Full review of the first two books here.) We discussed Concourse on A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

trilogy by M.C.A. Hogarth
This is a really fun space opera series which is continually flirting with becoming romance novels. (Full review here.)

The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ 
by Andrew Klavan
A great conversion story by a thriller author. Both inspirational and influential - my prayer life changed after reading it. I listened to the audiobook which was read by the author. (Full review here.)

My Lady Jane 
by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and , Jodi Meadows
What if history was just a little bit different when England's King Edward died and Lady Jane Grey was caught up in a political conspiracy to ascend to the throne? What if some people were shape changers who also had an animal form?

Of course, that would be an alternate history, probably written for young adults. For what it was — a humorous, inventive, light, romantic, alternative history — it was practically perfect in every way. It was sometimes silly but always charming and I was glued to it in every spare moment. I listened to the audiobook which I wholeheartedly recommend. (Full review here.)

The Help 
by Kathryn Stockett
After covering the movie when it was selected by a movie discussion group regular, I revisited the book to see if it was as good as I recalled. The movie was a by-the-numbers telling with broad strokes.

The book, as I rediscovered, was so much more than that. I decided to try it in audiobook form after seeing that Octavia Spencer was one of the narrators. And the audio really makes it soar. Worth reading and rereading, whether in print or audio.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017 Book and Movie Challenge

My 2016 Book Challenge went really well and I updated my post so you can see how it went, if you like. Some of it was planned and some I fell into ... so I'm curious to see how this year goes.

  1. Chronological Bible Reading
    I made it partway through Jeremiah last year. And into the Book of Wisdom from the middle column. I'm waiting to read the New Testament until I get done with the old one first. I'm not on a timetable. There's no reason to rush through just to read the Bible in a year.Here's the plan I'm using.

  2. The High Window by Raymond Chandler
    This is the last Chandler I haven't read. Might as well finish all that lovely prose this year.

  3. A History of the Jews by Paul Johnson

  4. The Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila (reread)

  5. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
    I was looking around for another author somewhat like Dickens and Gaskell's name kept coming up.

  6. Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd
    I've always wanted to try Ackroyd's writing and who better to read about than Thomas More? It might be more More than I want (haha) but it can't hurt to try.

  7. Robert Heinlein Mature Science Fiction
    Looking around for new science fiction to try, I wound up back in an unexpected spot — back with one of the acknowledged masters from 40 years ago. I thought I'd read a lot of Heinlein's books but it turns out not to be the case. I'm looking forward to diving into both the juveniles and adult books. There's nothing like old science fiction, after all!

    UPDATE: As I entered the new year, I found myself with lots of science fiction authors from Heinlein's time (which spanned a considerable part of science fiction history in my lifetime). I am going to read Heinlein, to be sure, but I am also going to look for more authors who I've just plain missed.
    • Pat Murphy: The City, Not Long After

  8. Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza

  9. I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity Izzeldin Abuelaish

This is going to be my year of Shakespeare movies, I think. There are several I've been wanting to see and plenty more to discover once I begin seriously looking. I've always shied away from Shakespeare but Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing made me want to dig deeper.

I've got just a few to begin with - will add more as I go.

  1. Hamlet - David Tennant
  2. Hollow Crown series
  3. Macbeth
  4. Taming of the Shrew