Jan 232018

Eight years ago I posted on my favorite new podcast “A Good Story is Hard to Find”.

Eight years later Julie Davis from Happy Catholic and Scott Danielson a contributor to SFFaudio have kept the promise of their tagline “Two Catholics talking about books, movies, and the traces of ”one Reality“ they find there.”

I was invited on their show and am part of the recent episode of their podcast. As a book I picked A. Merritt’s “The Ship of Ishtar”, a sword and sorcery novel from 1924. Abraham Merritt was a wonderful writer and one of the best of the pulp era. This novel is an interesting take on a lost civilization across time using an avatar to bridge the six thousand years.

While we talked about his novel the conversation explored a number of topics. I had great fun participating.

Download or listen via this link: |Episode #174|

Subscribe to the podcast via this link: Feedburner

Or subscribe via iTunes by clicking: |HERE|

Jan 052018

It is not a secret that we know less about the Magi mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew than is popularly portrayed.

  • The number of them is not mentioned in the Gospels, just the number of gifts.
  • They were not kings.

The one fact that I though that we did know was that likely they were from Persia because of the use of the term Magi.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker in his new book Mystery of the Magi: The Quest to Identify the Three Wise Men takes a dive into the history concerning this and comes up with some interesting answers. I found it a very worthwhile read. I enjoyed how he pieces together the clues and sets up the possible solution. He challenges both the scholars who think the visit of the Magi were not historical and those who thought the case they were from Persia was strong. He does it in such a way as to not saying his theory is the definitive answer, but to advance scholarship on this.

There was also some coverage regarding various theories regarding the Star of Bethlehem and it does a good job of covering in summary form some of these theories. The only weakness I found in this was a dependence of Herod the Great dying in 4 B.C., which has been commonly held. This dating is important in regards to various theories based on astronomy. Jimmy Akin has a good article regarding this dating which puts Herod’s death a couple years later Jesus’ birth and when Herod the Great really died.

Here is a recent article he wrote regarding his book.

Here is a review by Thomas L. McDonald in the National Catholic Register.

Dec 142017

At first I wasn’t much interested in Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s new book Mystery of the Magi: The Quest to Identify the Three Wise Men. I thought I already pretty well knew the subject. I knew about the mythic accumulations that have built up on the story.

Still after seeing some reviews I was intrigued. So I made this one of my Audible picks this month.

While again I knew some of the basic outline regarding what we didn’t know about these men of indeterminate number, I didn’t realize how much we could know about them. In many ways this book is almost like a detective novel. Shifting the facts to see our way forward.

I liked just about everything regarding the presentation of this information. For one it is totally engaging and it takes a deep dive into the information we have from the Gospel of Matthew and uses the tools of history to give us a fuller context. I liked that he allows for multiple interpretations of the information. That while he lays a solid case for where these Magi came from, he is presenting a case and wants to know more himself. This book really lets you see the Magi in a new light and to have a much better historical context.

There was also some coverage regarding various theories regarding the Star of Bethlehem and it does a good job of covering in summary form some of these theories. The only weakness I found in this was a dependence of Herod the Great dying in 4 BC which has been commonly held. This dating is important in regards to various theories based on astronomy. Jimmy Akin has a good article regarding this dating which puts he death a couple years later.

Thoroughly enjoyable read.

Jul 172017

I always look forward to new books by Trent Horn. I so enjoy his engaging and winsome writing style. There is intellectual heft behind his arguments presented in a challenging, but non-combative style. His latest is Why We’re Catholic: Our Reasons for Faith, Hope, and Love.

He starts by discussing objective truth and defining terms regarding truth claims. While the discussion is around the self-refuting claims of moral relativism, he doesn’t use that term. The next chapter deals with “Why we believe in Science” and the problems of scientism. Since the Church vs. Science is such a commonly mistaken view it is important to address this early one.

The chapters go on to build on the existence of God and answering objections regarding Jesus and other common topics regarding the Church. All the chapters are fairly short, but packed with information. Throughout he is careful to define terms.

So overall a very good book as an introduction to various apologetics topics that can be used to shore up your own knowledge or given to someone who has questions.

Jun 122017

Some years ago David Athey sent me his first book Danny Gospel, which I reviewed here. Almost a decade has past and I can still remember that book vividly. As a constant reader books usually get lost in the fiction fog for me over time.

So when he wrote to tell me his third book was available I immediately bought it. Joan of the Everglades.

He described it as “comedy-thriller with a nod to Chesterton.”

Joan Dior is an edgy teen artist who finds a corpse in a Florida lagoon, vows to find the killer, and becomes the target of a billionaire and his death cult who believe they have regrown the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.”

Joan and her best friend, Mia, along with their two guy friends, Dontey and Rico, get drawn into the middle of the Everglades and must battle not only the cult but also giant pythons, alligators, and a Komodo dragon … during a killer storm … while methane gas bursts into hellish flames all around them. Good times. Everyone will probably die. Unless . .

His first novel reminded me of Flannery O’Connor, but his latest brings me more to the mind of Walker Percy with a dose of C.S. Lewis style allegory. As a comedy I was amused throughout, especially with the “Dear reader” notes intertwined. It works quite well as a thriller as the story briskly moves along and surprised me several times along the way. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

My only complaint is that as it moved to the final chapters dealing with Joan and Mia, I was wondering about the reactions of the characters setup in the first half dealing with spiritual welfare. Although thinking back, maybe this was a feature – not a bug in that there is a very connected point to this setup.

Apr 062017

As a long time fan of Julie Davis I was delighted to receive a review copy of her latest book – which is released today. Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life: Prayers and Reflections for Getting Closer.

I have become more an more of a fan regarding the genre of daily meditations. Usually I like the format of a quote or two, short reflection, and a closing prayer/reflection. I usually like the conciseness of such books which get right to the point.

I have been taking a leisurely stroll through this new book using it as intended. Reading a single or a couple of pages daily. I really enjoy the variety of quote sources and how she reflects on them. She has a Chestertonian ability to see things afresh and to illustrate that freshness to you. There is gratitude and wonder in her reflections that inspire me to want to imitate that viewpoint more consistently.

Sometimes even from the best of writers I usually find the closing prayer/reflection more as something tagged on than integral. More as an expected part of the format than something useful. Not true here where even a single sentence is the exclamation point to what goes before.

So yeah – highly recommended.

To see an excerpt go to Niggle Publishing.

Oh and Niggle Publishing is hers. A Tolkien fan, such as myself, just loves that name.

You can also find Julie at: (lifted from her Publishing page)

Jan 162017

Called to Be the Children of God – Multiple Authors

Listening to the Al Kresta show I heard a interview with Carl E. Olson regarding Called to Be the Children of God: The Catholic Theology of Human Deification, put out by Ignatius Press. I bought this as this is a subject I am somewhat interested in and knew just some of the basics. This is a book of essays on the subject from a variety of authors.

In the last essay in the book, David W. Fagerberg provides a good summary in his own included essay.

It is an impressive accomplishment in this book to see the theme of divinization laid out across the broad range of Catholic history: Scripture, the Greek and Latin Fathers, Dominicans and Franciscans, Trent, the embryonic Scheeben and Newman, the French schools, two Vatican Councils, and the current Catechism.

Fagerberg’s essay was on Liturgy and Divinization.

So the essays are very wide-ranging across the history of the Church. Previously I had thought that deification was primarily a focus of the Greek Fathers and and much more emphasized theologically in the Eastern part of the Church. There is a truth to that, but this book demonstrates just how much it is and has been a fabric of the whole Church. Mainly that it is covered under a whole range of words and ideas that express the same underlying concept. These essays show just how fundamental this is and again demonstrates how much God loves us. So this is recommended for anybody who wants to know more about the subject. While scholarly, it is also written for a general audience.

Mary of Nazareth – Michael Hesemann

Mary of Nazareth: History, Archaeology, Legends.

This book presents a very interesting approach to providing a biography of Mary. From scripture we can only gleam a little information, but via historical documents and archaeology there is actually a lot more that we can dive into.

While the text of the Proto-Gospel of James is an apocryphal early work and should be looked at critically. It does contain a wealth of information that can be “verified historically and archaeologically” as the author says along with “that we must assume that it has an authentic tradition at its core”. I knew that this document is where we got the names of Mary’s Parents Saint Joachim and Saint Anne, but I did not realize how much other information there was. The author does a good job of demonstrating what we can likely take as valid information along with what is more dubious.

I especially enjoyed how he was able to combine what is known of the history of the times around events in Mary’s life along with being amplified by archaeologically discoveries. This provides both context and flavor. I especially found interesting the connection with King Herod and the Essenes and a foretelling he received from an Essene by the name of Menahem predicting he would become King of the Jews. This led to the fact that after a great earthquake the Essenes likely moved to Jerusalem. Subsequently that Herod allowed them to be involved in the building of the new Temple, much to the chagrin of the Sadducees. Now I am rather suspicious of historians seeing the Essenes influencing everything, yet this is not the case in this book.

Really I can go on and on about what I found interesting and informative in this book. Information about Mary’s house, the Holy House of Loretto, what we can know about the Flight into Egypt along with her time in Ephesus. The wealth of archaeological discoveries is really amazing in what it provides in backstory.

I only had some very minor quibbles. Some of the dated chronology of events were presented without mentioning alternatives. He favors a birth of Christ being in 5 B.C. as do others. Jimmy Akin has a good post in favor of 3/2 B.C. This and other points of chronology I would have liked to see more of a caveat regarding them. Still I found this to be an excellent read along with many “wow” moments.

Caveat This book was provided by the publisher for review.

Continental Ambitions by Kevin Starr

Continental Ambitions: Roman Catholics in North America: the Colonial Experience

As a sad note Kevin Starr recently died of a heart attack in San Francisco on January 14, 2017.

This book provided by the publisher I have not read yet. This is a large volume history which I want to get to, so here is the publisher’s summary.

Starr begins this work with the exploration and temporary settlement of North America by recently Christianized Scandinavians. He continues with the destruction of Caribbean peoples by New Spain, the struggle against this tragedy by the great Dominican Bartolomé de Las Casas, the Jesuit and Franciscan exploration and settlement of the Spanish Borderlands (Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Baja, and Alta California), and the strengths and weaknesses of the mission system.

He then turns his attention to New France with its highly developed Catholic and Counter-Reformational cultures of Quebec and Montreal, its encounters with Native American peoples, and its advance southward to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. The volume ends with the founding of Maryland as a proprietary colony for Roman Catholic Recusants and Anglicans alike, the rise of Philadelphia and southern Pennsylvania as centers of Catholic life, the Suppression of the Jesuits in 1773, and the return of John Carroll to Maryland the following year.

Starr dramatizes the representative personalities and events that illustrate the triumphs and the tragedies, the achievements and the failures, of each of these societies in their explorations, treatment of Native Americans, and translations of religious and social value to new and challenging environments. His history is notable for its honesty and its synoptic success in comparing and contrasting three disparate civilizations, albeit each of them Catholic, with three similar and differing approaches to expansion in the New World.

Faith with Good Reason – Ben Butera

I received Faith with Good Reason: Finding Truth Through an Analytical Lens from it’s author, of whom I know of from Two Catholic Men and a Blog.

An interesting look at using analytical problem solving to finding truths in the faith. He brings his experience in the field of problem solving for a large company to show how the same rules apply to matters of faith.

As so many have a narrow view of empirical science as being the only access to truth, this book provides the anecdote. He references part of a quote that Saint John Paul II went on to include in Fides et ratio.

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.

Not surprising all the circular logic when so many are trying to fly on one wing.

The book is presented in an accessible style providing plenty of examples, stories and personal stories, and thought experiments. I especially enjoyed his analogies. There is also a lot of apologetics information looked at via his analytical lens. It is always interesting how many tools can be used to look at the faith and to give us new perspectives. He does this ably here and provides tools to use from our reason.

As a note most of the proceeds are going to help the Mystic Monks of Wyoming build their monastery.

From A Dark Wayover – Dan Lord

I was very happy to receive a review copy of From A Dark Wayover: Book Two of the Von Koppersmith Saga (Volume 2) from the author. I totally loved the first book By the Downward Way: Book One of the Von Koppersmith Saga, which I previously reviewed.

Stunningly good and a flight of imagination that carries you along. Traveling from the Garden of Eden to the Pied Piper and its own mythology is brought together to present a fascinating story. A decedent of the pied piper and an evil act that must be atoned for is brought into a world not of his choosing. Enjoyed pretty much every aspect of the story. While it is apparent there are more books to come in this new series, the first book is totally self contained.

The second book does not disappoint and escalates the story. Leo has a lot more to save than just the boys. Lots of surprises along the way as things don’t turn out how you might expect them to do. This one does end on a cliffhanger and so is not as self-contained at the first book. Still my interest is highly peaked to see the final volume. I really enjoy fantasy that builds you up and has a decided moral viewpoint without being message fiction.

Jan 032017

On Tolkien’s birthday it annoys me that once when it comes to books I was as irritating as Neil deGrasse Tyson. Fantasy books – no way. Give me Asimov, Niven, Clement. I want hard science fiction not day dreams! Thus I totally ignored this genre.

Even when I finally came around on Fantasy, I ignored Tolkien. Talk about dumb. It was only much later coming into the Church that I kept seeing his name on list of recommended books from Catholics. Since first reading it now they have become something I read it almost annually. They have become almost like spiritual wisdom since they contain so much wisdom. In one of those ironies of life leading up to my conversion I was noticing my increased love of the Fantasy genre because of the heroic and virtuous characters. I loved their willingness to do what is right and willing to sacrifice. I was coming to hate that I could not find those virtues in myself.

Last night I started going through the extended edition Blu-Ray of the movies again. It’s funny how the books and the movies have merged so much for me. Watching the movie I could have sworn there was a scene removed here or there. I could almost remember watching it. The same would happen reading the books. Although this only happened when there was considerable overlap. Mostly watching the movies I can understand the reasons for what was removed. Tom Bombadil and the whole section leading to Rivendell. The decision to remove the Scourging of the Shire, less so and how this changes a lot of things. Funny he could make 3 movies out of the hobbit, but kept to three for LOTR.

Still I really love the movies – especially the extended editions as they undo some of the character damage and do add to the telling. Although what I hate is that when a character is altered it is always for the worse. Faramir and Sam most of all. Sam leaving Frodo – you got to be kidding me. Yeah lots to quibble over regarding the movies, but at least mostly understandable quibbles. Although I can’t not say that for Hobbit trilogy – feast for the eyes, but not the soul. I don’t own any of those movies and I love the book.

I do love John C. Wright’s essay on one of the Hobbit movies. THE HOBBIT: The Desolation Of Tolkien and how it was often struck by the Stupidity Hammer.

Dec 282016

Since John Glenn’s death I have been going through books on the various space programs. I wanted to fill in my gaps of knowledge since while growing up in that era I knew little of the Mercury and Gemini programs.

So started with The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe’s masterful book on the Mercury program. The opening chapters describing a jet pilots life were just great writing with a poetic rhythm. Such a great book.

Next up was “On the Shoulders of Titans: History of Project Gemini.” This was a straight forward history produced by NASA (free PDF). A bit dry, but informative. It kind of freaks me out I didn’t know about the Gemini 6A and 7 accomplishing the first space rendezvous. Had no idea we ever sent up two crews close together.

Now I am reading A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin. I got the audiobook version of this which is done by my favorite narrator Bronson Pinchot. This one is really blowing me away. This approaches “The Right Stuff” in writing skill. Chaikin eventually was able to interview almost all of the Apollo pilots that were still living at the time. So you see it colored by these interviews adding so much flavor and really bringing you into the moment. Just so well done. I just finished the part on Apollo 8 mission, the first to go around the moon and first using the new Saturn V rocket. I was ten at the time and remember listening to their broadcast on Christmas Eve on my crystal radio set with the single earpiece and braided cord. Listening to them describe the moons surface and then alternately read from Genesis. I remember this so well, although I had no idea what the book of Genesis was. My exposure to scripture was all accidental. In fact decades later I was surprised to find out how many phrases I knew were actually scriptural references. YouTube video with the Genesis reading from the Astronauts.

Regardless the audiobook version of A Man on the Moon is phenomenal. Pinchot’s skill is so evident while being both restrained and dramatic when the story is open to it. A good history is a time machine into the past and this is that in spades. The introduction to the book is from Tom Hanks who describes the impact it made on him for his preparations for Apollo 13 along with others involved. Astronaut Jim Lovell the commander of Apollo 13 was also one of the crew on Apollo 8 and Command Pilot of Gemini 10.

The space programs was transformative for me being that they lead me to my lifetime love of Science Fiction along with technical interests starting as an electronics hobbyist, a Navy Career as an Avionics tech doing component repair of “black boxes”, and then a career working with computers as an application developer. So like many others influenced by this era it is sad to see our space program dwindle so. The sadness of watching live the Challenger explode and the joy of watching the subsequent Discovery launch while I was in Florida on a port visit with the U.S.S. America (CV–66). I remember the night before the successful Discovery launch playing the Commodore 64 Space Shuttle: A Journey into Space simulator from Activision all night long until finally having success.

Dec 202016

Some years ago I hear an interview on Al Kresta’s show with Sally Read. She is a a British poet and former psychiatric nurse. The interview involved her conversion to the Catholic faith from then a lifetime as an atheist. Very insightful interview.

So I was interested to find that she has now written her conversion story for Ignatius Press. The book is Night’s Bright Darkness: A Modern Conversion Story.

Conversion stories of all types interest me. As a former atheist I especially enjoy conversion stories from other former atheists. After reading this one I realized that the recent books I read about atheists becoming Catholics were all women.

I had recently read Andrew Klavan’s The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ which is excellent, but he didn’t become Catholic.

Still an interesting thread in the stories of these women and a couple of similar examples I know of was that these were not women who rebelled against how they were raised. As I remember they grew up in households with no faith, as I did. All firm in their atheism with the Catholic Church, if it was even on their radar at all, was a marked enemy. So I find these commonalities fascinating along with just how different their stories are. Each book I referenced was a journey where they didn’t want to go filled with their own personalities and interests. These stories also tend not to read like an apologetics work common with Protestants who became Catholics. There are different concerns involved.

So I expected Sally Read’s account to have a literary tone to it as I imagined a poet’s account would be. I was not expecting it to feel so much a meditation. The story itself seems so unlikely. A staunch atheist with a view of life common to modern feminism. Yet at times she has glimpses into her situation that she can’t account for from her viewpoint. A realization that something was missing which could not be accounted for.

The journey of her conversion is very frank and striking. What gets her talking to a priest is not exactly a common point in a story of conversion. Yet like all conversion stories there is a confluence of different threads moving together.

Really I am failing spectacularly at writing this review because I don’t have the skill to write the review it deserves. I was totally enthralled in her story and how she weaved in these parts of her life and the influence on her thinking. Not a straight forward sequential biography of going from point A to B. A narrative with themes that presents her story. That she did some of this merging St. John of the Cross’ “Dark Night of the Soul” was very effective. It all moved me greatly.

The story of the priest she came to know and argued back and forth with was integral to this story. So glad that this priest showed such perseverance in this. The same goes with her relationship with one Catholic mother that was tumultuous.

I just totally loved this book. So much so that it is one I will probably read is again. So insightful and written so wonderfully. Striking in the absurdity of the story and the movement of grace.