Authors seeking review: please e-mail first before sending a book. Kathryn is currently trying to finish her current queue. Works of Christian fiction and non-fiction are considered; any material of an anti-Catholic nature sent will be discarded.
Joseph and Mary: a Love Story
by N. Ashton Walker
, 0971119929, $12.99
To review a fictional work based upon the life of Christ is always a tricky prospect, particularly when one must consider the audience to whom one is recommending the book. The premise of Joseph and Mary, a fictional account of the marriage of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, is intriguing, then again what Christian would not find the story of Holy Family so? It is a timeless tale, peppered with adventure and mystery, and ultimately leads to a happy ending for all.
Author Walker's account is somewhat modernized. Here Mary lives in an apartment and converses over the phone with her cousin Elizabeth, who calls her "girl." Mary's speech, too, is colloquial. She wears jeans and T-shirts and watches television, and she is in love with Joseph but afraid at first to tell him that she has conceived of the Holy Spirit. In keeping with the Gospel story, Joseph is taken aback, yet a Heavenly visit assures Joseph of his role in the Holy Family. He takes Mary as his wife and raises Jesus as his own, taking in stride "miracles" performed in the schoolyard and Jesus's blunt revelation of the end of Joseph's mortal life.
As a story taken out of its intended context, Joseph and Mary reads as a touching story of devotion between two people who love God and each other. As accurate biblical fiction...this is the tricky part. Some readers will find Joseph and Mary problematic, as Mary is portrayed as having more children (all of whom are practically surrendered to the background of the story). Catholics and Evangelicals have argued for centuries over whether or not Joseph and Mary ever consummated their earthly relationship and expanded the family. Being Catholic, I accept the doctrine of Mary's perputal virginity (see the article "Mary: Ever Virgin" by Catholic Answers), though I recognize that these reviews are often visited by those whose beliefs are not the same as mine. I don't fault others what they believe of Mary having other children, and it is my hope nobody faults mine, yet for me to recommend this book would be impossible.
Therefore, I leave the verdict of Joseph and Mary to the reading public. If you feel so inclined to explore the themes of this book, do so with a prayerful heart. The idea of fictionalizing the story of the Holy Family should not be discouraged, but like actual interpretation of the Bible itself not everybody is destined to agree.
by James Haywood Rolling, Jr.
Pleasant Word, 157921522X, $15.99
Is it possible to lead a successful, important life without feeling the need to shut out others, especially God? It is, so author James Rollings stresses in Living Sacrifices. Growing up in a self-imposed isolated state, Rolling recalls the folly of his youth and the ensuing emptiness he experienced and realized as a result. His story is not unique.
A life centered in self is doomed to wither and perish, while a life centered in others can only grow in strength and foundation, Rollings writes in this short (just over 200 pages) book, which reads more like a series of mini-books. Some sections dissect what Rollings calls the lies of self-importance, self-indulgence, and self-reliance, proposing that success in any aspect of life is not possible while these are observed. Later parts of the book are steeped heavily in biblical passages and Christian testimony. All chapters are tied together with eloquent poetry and spiritual reflection.
Rollings writes with an enthusiasm for the Lord borne of many years suffering from the same self-imposed afflictions he discourages in Living Sacrifices. A worthwhile read, Living Sacrifices is good therapy for the isolated soul.
Jonah Christopher and the Last Chance Mass
by William Ferguson
Writers Club Press, 0595258794, $11.95
Like his Bibilical namesake, Jonah Christopher has seen his share of adventure. Now settled contentedly into the life of a middle-school teacher, Jonah's only concern is a relaxing Spring Break away from his troubles. He wants to take his girlfriend Catherine fishing, and forget for a moment her free-thinking father and his fundamentalist neighbor, both of whom have proven to be constant thorns in his sides.
The Blessed Virgin, to whom Jonah is very much devoted, has other plans. One night after falling asleep in the garage, resting in the wooden boat he made especially for his vacation, Jonah awakes to find himself in "aeviternity," in a timeless state where snow is warm and a mysterious priest/guide is popping through a new hatch at the bottom of Jonah's boat. Jonah learns Mary has chosen him for a special mission - to battle the ultimate evil. Jonah isn't entirely certain what to look for, but knows at least that the red-haired girl with the eerie blue eyes following him throughout this strange journey in one harbringer of doom. Luckily, for this adventure Jonah has the ultimate weapon - prayer.
Catholic journalist Ferguson's first novel-length foray into fiction is an adventure for the soul. Moments of good humor, coupled with orthodox Catholic sentiment that is neither preachy nor stiff, make Jonah Christopher a good summer read.
The Valley of Childhood
by Linda Whalen
Bright Books, 0961731729, $14.95
Often the journey towards contentment with Christ is presented in allegory - a winding road leading to the gates of Heaven, the calm eye of a hurricane wherein one can find brief solace with the Lord in the midst of a tempestuous life. For Linda Whalen, the journey is likened to a hike through a valley through which childhood memories are stirred, lessons are learned, and healing begins. The Valley of Childhood, part memoir and part devotional, offers such a raw, emotional testimony, as seen through the eyes of a child struggling to come to Christ.
Each chapter of Childhood presents a different level of the valley, from rocky terrains to sharp dips and hazy floors. Whalen reveals hardships endured throughout her childhood, the film of dust on her skin and mud caked to her shoes representative of past sins and transgressions, the opportunity for refreshment at the valley spring thwarted when the water is discovered to be too salty to drink - alluding to deceptions one often faces in life. A brief respite in a valley garden provides an oasis from hardship as Whalen recalls more pleasant memories of childhood and comes to appreciate the beauty in nature and life God offers us. "The first thing I understand is the need all people have to be in a still, quiet place with the Lord," writes Whalen as the garden dissolves into a desert of uncertainty. Wherever we are in our own personal valleys, be it lost in a maze of trees or threatened by tumbling rocks overhead, Whalen stresses, one need not be afraid if one lets Jesus lead the way home.
Whalen nicely ties each chapter, each leg of the journey with a Scriptural quote, prayer, and reflection. At times very personal, and often a simple book to which anyone can relate, The Valley of Childhood is a unique, vivid devotional.
The Spider in the Well
by Lee Ann Ward
Publish America, 1592865992, $14.95
On the outset, it appears Paul Ford has everything. He is the star player on his college football team with a chance at the pros, is dating the prettiest girl on campus, and has a loving, faith-filled family. It stands to reason Paul should feel quite happy about his good fortune, yet he continues to be haunted by an accident involving his kid brother for which, despite everybody's objections, he feels responsible.
Worry about football, worry about the future, don't dwell on the past, he is told time and again. Paul certainly does his share of that, and when the final home game ends with a tragedy that seals Paul's fate, he is left to do more serious thinking, and praying. All at once everything falls away: career, love, security, and even his family is threatened by the course of events. Being reminded of the one certainty in his life - God's love - helps him to better examine God's will for his life, and like the spider in the wall he once tried to protect as a child Paul comes to trust in the Lord's protection and guidance in the challenges that face him during his recovery.
A short yet uplifting novel, The Spider in the Well is a novel suitable for young and older readers alike, a fable emphasizing how one can turn tragedy into glory, and how material success does not necessarily yield the treasure God wants for us.
The Cult Around the Corner
by Nancy O'Meara and Stan Koehler
Foundation for Religious Freedom International, 1928575102, $7.95
"Calm down...do not panic." These are the first words of advice authors O'Meara and Koehler offer to anyone concerned about a relative or loved one who has strayed from the relative security of an acceptable faith into something perceived as dubious. Granted, it would not be surprising for one to fly off the handle upon learning his/her child has decided to leave the Baptist/Methodist/Catholic Church for (insert a splinter cult or community here). Uncharted territory is often met with suspicions, and as both authors emphasize in The Cult Around the Corner, the obvious reaction is to become defensive. It is not always the right reaction, as it can lead to alienation.
Research and rationalism are the keys to maintaining good relationships with those fallen away. Counsel with a trusted minister or mediator provides a firm foundation for communication with loved ones. To the authors' credit, no one faith or organization is endorsed or maligned, and belief in God is neither encouraged nor discouraged. Readers are not chastised for being judgmental or critical of other faiths; while the right to hold one's beliefs is recognized, O'Meara and Koehler also stress the need to recognize the rights and beliefs of your loved ones, even if they do not align with yours.
The Cult Around the Corner is a short book, but straight to the point with excerpts of actual case studies handled by the Foundation for Religious Freedom. Its purpose is not to list cults or cultish faiths as a guide for the vigilant, but to help repair the relationships broken by divisive opinions. In this time of uncertainly about particular faiths as they relate to the war, it is an important book to read.