Oct 042016

Karina Fabian latest novel is a SF first contact called Discovery.

First off there was just so much I enjoyed. I just love the concept of an order of Religious sisters dedicated to rescuing people involved in accidents in space (Our Lady of the Rescue).

An apparently dead alien starship is detected in the Kuiper Belt on an asteroid and a team has been sent out to investigate. The “Rescue Sisters” were sought out to join the mission and to provide training and oversee safety.

An interesting premise, but what I think I loved most was the characters in the story. There is lots of tension involving competing groups and individuals with there own ideas on what first contact might bring. A clash of worldviews. Their is some depth to the characters in the story. Various levels of brokenness among the crew and the sisters.

The faith of the sisters play a large part in the novel and the resolution of it. Villians in the plot are not two-dimensional characters just to provide tension and to move the plot. They have a realism to their motives and for the Rescue Sisters there is more than just physical rescuing.

Sister Rita, a central character, is having to face a situation she in part ran from as someone from her past is part of the crew. There were many ways this plot point could have gone cliche, but didn’t. The character of Sister Ann was quite memorable. She had a way of speaking in non-linear way of expressing the spiritual dimension of things. Perceptive and wise, but also having her own problems to resolve.

Add to this the discovery of something on the alien ship that throws the crew into conflict.

As a SF novel I thought the story was quite good on it’s own merit. How character-driven this novel was enhanced the story. I have read several of Karina Fabian’s books and the majority were comic novels making the most of a fun concept. Discovery is a more serious SF novel, but her wit does poke through from time to time. I would certainly like to read more of the Rescue Sisters.

While the Catholicism of the book is central to the main characters, it is integral with the story and is in no way “hit-you-over-the-head-message-fiction.”

Here is a recent interview she did with Ellen Gable Hrkach that I found interesting.

Sep 062016

When I received Faith Under Fire: Dramatic Stories of Christian Courage by Matthew Archbold I thought I already had a good idea regarding what it would cover. Figured it would focus extensively on the situation in the Middle East and elsewhere with the focused murder and persecution of Christians in those lands. While that is one aspect, this book is much broader than that important focus.

I found stories both familiar and ones I had not heard of. They follow the gamut from some form of persecution to martyrdom. Mostly they are stories of Christians living their faith in season and out of season. Stories of Christians who stepped in to problems situations to make them better. To fully give of themselves to others. The age of people chronicled in these stories also ranged from the young to the elderly.

Many of the stories are bittersweet and involve tragedy, yet the tragedy is not the final answer. Christianity has always been the way of the cross and Jesus told us the consequences of following him. While currently in the United States their is increasing persecution regarding religious liberty, it is still a soft persecution – even if disruptive to some people’s lives. It is how we live our faith in these circumstances and more severe ones that tell if we have really given our lives to Him.

Despite the bittersweet or tragedy, I found these witnesses to the faith encouraging. These stories are inspiring and remind us to turn to the Holy Spirit. That we are all called to be witnesses despite the circumstances. If we can live our faith fully with little or no pushback, then praise God. If we do receive pushback then praise God also in the spirit of Job’s words.

I also really enjoyed how the stories were told and framed together. This is not just some patchwork of news stories, but a result of research and interviews where possible.

Aug 112016

There is certainly a wealth of book regarding apologetical arguments to use with Protestants. Some that help you get across these arguments at the personal level. Devin Rose’s new book Navigating the Tiber: How to Help Your Friends and Family Journey Toward the Catholic Faith combines both of these aspects.

I really enjoyed how this book was laid out. The first chapter addresses the fact that Protestantism in not monolithic in any way. So it is important to have at least a general idea of the beliefs of the major branches of Protestantism. One branch of Protestant theology might be at odds with a specific aspect of Catholicism while will either practice or be close to the same belief. So when talking to someone you have to have some idea where they are coming from and what their specific nuances are.

Most importantly one of the underpinnings of this book is being in relationship with people. He describes several of his experiences with co-workers in getting to know them. It was only in getting to know people that he was able to decide when to broach subjects regarding religion or whether to broach the subject at all. While reading this I was thinking of the phrase used in apologetics “Win an argument, lose a soul.” This book is very aware of that pitfall and he references conversations he had over a period of time. There is always the pratfall of Biblical ping-pong slinging verses back and forth and point-scoring. So there is also prudence involved in knowing a conversation just is not going to be fruitful for either party.

Along the way the book builds on fruitful avenues when working with Protestants and some of the typical blindspots. Lots of solid apologetic material. Again though the strength of this book is relationships and how to have conversations on these subjects that actually brings light instead of heat.

Aug 082016

Whenever Trent Horn of Catholic Answers releases a new book I am always eager to read it. This time around he writes about Bible difficulties taking a systematic approach to approaching these difficulties and hard sayings.

Hard Sayings: A Catholic Approach to Answering Bible Difficulties

I have read some books in this area, but as Trent Horn notes there is generally little by Catholic on the subject in recent times. I read and enjoyed Free from All Error: Authorship Inerrancy Historicity of Scripture, Church Teaching, and Modern Scripture Scholars from the late Fr. Most. Still this is an area that continuously needs to be addressed especially as the new atheism takes a fundamentalist jab at scriptural passages.

What I most like about this book is that it builds up a series of rules to use in interpretation and then recaps these 16 rules at the end. This book does not start out at the gate at looking at “campaigns of genocide”, but starts out looking a the Catholic view of scriptural interpretation. This is a necessary start which flows to the rest of the book. Understanding the canon of scripture and how it developed along with the various genres scripture uses.

This book does not attempt to go through every supposed difficulties but develops the rules using many well-known difficulties and the paths to resolve them. As is often the case there often multiple paths in understanding scripture and ways to resolve what at first seem to be stumbling blocks. Using these rules you are provide a template in resolving apparent contradictions. This does not mean that you might personally come up with a solution to such passages that you will perfectly satisfying. But it does help to see more in such paths to understanding.

So I found this book excellent by providing a rule based methodology to understanding Scripture from a Catholic perspective which can aid you into going deeper and building on this with the traditional understanding of the four senses of scripture.

Jul 052016

Deep Adventure

Listening to EWTN I have heard conversations with Bear Woznick a couple of times and found what he had to say interesting. At the time I knew nothing about him, but found that he is a two-time Masters World Champion Surfer. He mixes his experience in this and other sports with wisdom from the Greek philosophers and the treasury of the Church.

I found his new book Deep Adventure: The Way of Heroic Virtue to be fairly worthwhile and a good read. As you would expect there are a lot of sport metaphors in regard to living the spiritual life as a Catholic. St. Paul started this trend so this is something new. Sport metaphors work quite well when done right. I once remember a book that used Hockey to good ends in this regard.

Surfing is a sport I know next to nothing about, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying what he had to say. He takes you into this world in such a way that you can really see the attraction of it. He writes about his own spiritual struggles and coming to grips with truly living his faith in contrast to the lessons he learned from trying to master sports. This all works rather well and doesn’t feel contrived at all or attempting to illustrate to much out of his surfing examples.

In addition in between chapters is a story of a rescue he performed and this makes a nice narrative thread throughout. At times I was waiting between chapters to find out what happened next.

So if extended sports metaphors don’t put you off, this is some solid spiritual reading.

The Soul’s Upward Yearning

Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J. is such a geek and I mean this is the best way possible. He has currently finished the third book of a four book set. I previously reviewed the first book in the series Finding True Happiness: Satisfying Our Restless Hearts (Happiness, Suffering, and Transcendence). This time I have gotten around to The Soul’s Upward Yearning: Clues to Our Transcendent Nature from Experience and Reason: 2 (Happiness, Suffering, and Transcendence).

It is just astounding the various areas he covers in this book. Various studies on the history of religion and what this can teach us regarding the numinous experience. Epistemology and what we can learn from how we learn and how this points to God. Our desire for truth and how we naturally expect that there are answers and that the world is intelligible. Proofs for the transphysical and a look at what is called the “hard problem of self-conciousness”. Along the way there is plenty of philosophy and physics. Some of this is summarized from his book New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy.

This is not exactly light reading. Fr. Spitzer though is good at explaining his material and provides the right amount of repetitiveness to help you to remember and to grasp the content. Still you certainly have to put some effort into reading this book to get the most out of it. I was able to grasp most of it so that pretty much means most people will also be able to do so. This series of books is quite geeky and covers a large range of human knowledge. I just loved how this particular book swamps you with lots of things to consider regarding our transcendent nature.

Jun 142016

So I had noticed a social media acquaintance had published a book, and so bought it in the interest of friendship. When it comes to self-published books I have lost some of my prejudice towards them as I have found some exceptionally good ones.

Specifically I am speaking of Vikings at Dino’s: A Novel of Lunch and Mayhem by William Duquette who blogs over at Cry ‘Woof!’.

The initial premise is that when Michael Henderson goes to lunch a band of Vikings trash the place performing all kinds of mayhem, and this happens every time he goes out to lunch. He starts with a Douglas Adams quote which sets the tone. Now I do enjoy when a funny premise is taken advantage of and that is certainly done here. The comic tone of Michael as he deals with these unpleasant intrusions of murderous Vikings was pretty funny at times.

What I did not expect that the story would evolve to a extremely good Science Fiction story. He brought the premise out of the comic realm into believable situation. This was expertly done. Even better he took what might have had average time travel elements and did something new with them. Done in a way that time travel paradoxes had nothing to do with the story at all.

Being aware that William Duquette is both a lay Dominican and a programmer I was not surprised to find some elements of that in the story. So there is some philosophical treatment of understanding the mechanics of what makes this a SF story. The central protagonist also being a programmer provides a partial problem-solving worldview in dealing with this odd situation. This aspect is totally integrated into the story and make it a better story. As a programmer myself, it certainly made me smile at times.

This was just an excellent novel that fired on all cylinders. That took basic tropes and built upon them developed characters. There was much in this novel I did not expect, but nothing I did not immensely enjoy. I really really hope this novel develops into sequels since it is easily one of the best things I have read this year. So for selfish reasons I urge you to obtain this book, because I want more!

Jun 052016

I recently finished a new collection of short stories from various authors I have not read before.

Between the Wall and the Fire edited by Russell S. Newquist, who also provides three stories.

“Between the Wall and the Fire – A collection of superversive science fiction and fantasy stories celebrating family devotion, including the stories”

If you have not come across the term superversive before, it describes a literary movement with an informal mission statement.

The goal of the Superversive is to bring hope, where there is no hope; to bring courage, where without courage, hope would never be manifested.
The goal of the Superversive is to be light to a benighted world.
The goal of the Superversive is:
To tell the truth.

So no stories where Captain America is actually a Hydra agent all along.

Now this statement combined with a theme of family could provide some trepidation of syrupy message fiction. Hammering in the point that “Family is important” like the endless “Holiday” movies on the Hallmark channel.

That is totally not the case and the collection of stories within Between the Wall and the Fire are excellent stories on their own in the genre of SF and Urban Fantasy. I enjoyed all the stories, but some stood out against even a solid collection.

The collection starts out very strong with “Edge” by Russell S. Newquist. The story starts with some explanation of motorcycle physics and introduces the main character a P.I. You start to get the feeling of some SF noir and then the action ramps up, and ramps up again. The situation gonzo as you start to find out about the inhabitants of this world. I really enjoyed how this was layered and that for a short story a definite beginning/middle/end. Like most good short stories you are satisfied with it while at the same time wanting more. In this case I could not have thought of a better ending. Just perfect.

“On the Bayou’s Edge” by Morgon Newquist was another story that left me perfectly satisfied. A grandmother protecting her family from things in the swamp. Serious things in the swamp that you need protection from, but that most people are unaware of. The story escalates when Maw Maw runs into a creature more powerful than what she has run into before. I just loved this character and the writing was crisp enough so that you had a nuanced look at the character without much exposition. It developed with the story. It also reminded me of the best of the Harry Dresden elements.

“Brotherly Envy” by S.D. McPhail is sort of an extended parable regarding two brothers where one brother is being praised for the powers that came to him. I found this story very thoughtful regarding the traps of envy, especially when you both envy and have come to despise the other.

“Negev” by Joshua M. Young explores a group of colonists who have left Earth because of religious persecution and are trying to make it on their own on a new planet as their skill set is rapidly lost. They are then found by representatives of “posthumanity” which provides the collision of cultures in the story. As the colonists are Jewish you can see allusions to the problems the Jewish people experience in their exodus and what they can take and reject from cultures they collided with.

“Knight of the Changeling” by Rusell S. Newquist was another one I greatly enjoyed. What happens in the genre of urban fantasy when a changeling is discovered and you try to recover the switched-out child? First off I just loved how the changeling was detected. Mostly I enjoyed the dangers of fairy land and then how it was all resolved.

In the interest of being brief I will stop the story synopsis, but really could easily go on since I liked all the stories so much.

Still I have to give final mention to “Life Began at Thirty-Three” by Verne Luvall. This is actually not fiction, but a short biographical reflection on life by Morgan Newquist’s grandfather. I am glad they included this, since I was rather moved by it and it topped off the theme of family perfectly.

Jun 022016

The Walls Are Talking: Former Abortion Clinic Workers Tell Their Stories is a new book put together by Abby Johnson, the former manager of a Planned Parenthood in Texas. She told of her conversion into the pro-life cause in Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line which was an exceptional book.

Since leaving the abortion business she started And Then There Were None, a registered nonprofit organization that exists to help abortion clinic workers leave the abortion industry. Her new book is a collection of stories from former abortion clinic workers.

The book starts with an excellent quote to put things into perspective.

“The propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that the other set of people are human.”

Aldous Huxley, The Olive Tree, 1937.

The abortion industry has been very effective in making a whole class of persons non-entities and simply “products of conception”, tissue mass, etc. But for pro-lifers there can be a similar temptation to dehumanize abortion workers. At first thought it is hard to imagine working in such a clinic day in and day out considering the horror within. This is why a book such as this is important.

These are not simply conversion stories of such workers detailing what occurred to make them see the reality of abortion and their subsequent struggle to leave. These mostly anonymous stories tell of specific events and set the context of those events. They are more of a snapshot of events and many of these chapters are fairly short.

I must admit that many of these stories were heart-wrenching and hard to read. There is some familiarity in their experiences. These women really thought they were helping other women. Some had qualms at the start, but put them away to provide what they thought of as a valuable service. I know a time or two I fleetingly thought “how could you justify what you were doing?”, and then I remember how familiar self-deception is to me. If you are not well acquainted with self-deception you haven’t looked very closely at yourself.

In many of these stories there is a pinnacle event that challenges the worker and makes them reexamine their assumptions. The stories of some of the women that came into the clinics are also are heart-wrenching. You see the tragedy examined through the eyes of the workers. You often wonder what the further stories of these women are and if they found healing later? You can see the same feeling in these workers whose intersection with these women who came in for abortion is very short.

I read this book over a month ago and yet I am still affected by the stories told. You also get a feeling for the callousness that develops for clinic staff and how abortion becomes a product to be pushed and sold for economic reasons. That often appearances were more important than the actual health of the women. That a medical emergency becomes bad publicity and steps are taken to hide it. This aspect is not present in all of the related stories, but it certainly appears in some of them. Especially chilling is the description of the POC (Products of Conception) technician whose job it is to count up parts to make sure there are no parts left in the patient.

There are also many reason that people will continue to work in such clinics even when they start having qualms. This is why Abby Johnson’s work with abortion workers is so important. They need encouragement and support to be able to leave and to heal from their experiences.

One of the things I love about being Catholic is that we really do believe in repentance and forgiveness. That our many sins can be forgiven by Jesus if we repent of them. That Dr. Bernard Nathanson an early abortionist and co-founder of NARAL, who presided over 75,000 abortions, could be welcome with open arms into the Church after his conversion. Abortion workers don’t need our contempt, but our prayers and real encouragement.

Thank God for Abby Johnson and the mission of And Then There Were None and I pray that we can hear more stories like those contained in this book.

Apr 182016

Jeff Cavins latest book When You Suffer: Biblical Keys for Hope and Understanding is aptly titled. Added to the well known “Death and Taxes” should be added “suffering” as something guaranteed for us. Jesus did not say “If you happen to have a cross, pick it up.” It is how we handle suffering that is the crux of the matter (use pun intended as always).

So how do we handle suffering without losing hope? The whole modern world seems to be aimed at eliminating suffering, but not dealing with suffering we can’t avoid. Often to eliminate the suffering they would eliminate the sufferer. Still in a Christian context there is much more to suffering than mere endurance.

For Catholics we will often hear “offer it up” and we might even have some grasp of what that means. Some of us might even be able to point to 1st Colossians 1:24.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking* in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God …

That somehow we can unite our sufferings with the redemptive suffering of Christ. Venerable Fulton J. Sheen use to speak about the tragedy of “wasted suffering” in hospitals. Yet even knowing some of this it is easy to have a trite understanding of this. Which is why I found Jeff Cavins new book to be very useful in explaining this and making the proper distinctions.

This review of the book puts this succinctly:

Cavins separates suffering into two categories: physical and moral. Physical is temporal, of this earth. It is temporary. Moral, on the other hand, can have eternal consequences and lead to the loss of eternal life. He also states that there are different purposes for suffering. Punitive is suffering as the result of sin. In a statement that many people today would be uncomfortable with, he maintains that God does punish us, but He does it for our good. However, not all suffering is punishment for sin. Some suffering is probative, or a testing of our faith. Other suffering is disciplinary, in which God is trying to educate us, once again for our benefit.

The impetus for this book was a period of serious physical pain that Jeff Cavins went through. No doubt he had a fairly good grasp of redemptive suffering before-hand, but the concrete often challenges our intellectual understandings. As a result his winsome writing on the subject delves into the intellectual understanding of the subject and the practical day-to-day aspects of living through suffering.

But if we can attach meaning to our suffering, if there is some value in what we are experiencing, we can endure anything.

There is a good deal I am tempted to quote from the book, but more to the point I think this book is a very useful guide to the subject. A book I will be keeping at hand myself.

Apr 112016

Handed Down: The Catholic Faith of the Early Christians by Jim Papandrea. Published by Catholic Answers Press.

There are plenty of Catholic apologetic books showing the falseness of the idea of Sola Scriptura. As a part of this the subject of Apostolic Tradition is often covered in part. This book goes more in-depth regarding Apostolic Tradition and charts some of the development of doctrine as these traditions handed down become concrete in Church teaching. This charting is done via the Early Church Fathers.

Each Chapter of the book addresses a specific topic and uses a “Featured Father” to illustrate what the Church teaches via that Father’s writings. A brief biography of that Father is given along with sections of their writings. Beyond this each chapter incorporated this aspect with a fuller explanation of the doctrine and the historical context fleshed out.

This is written in such a way to not just be citations from the Fathers, but a coherent look at how a Catholic doctrine was taught early on. Plus this is written in such a ways as to not be just a dry account, but more as a story. I enjoy this format as I have from other authors writing on the Church Fathers in recent years.

A worthwhile read and once again Catholic Answers Press delivers the goods.

I would also point you to this review of the book which provides a far better summary of the book.

Saints Who Battled Satan: Seventeen Holy Warriors Who Can Teach You How to Fight the Good Fight and Vanquish Your Ancient Enemy by Paul Thigpen. Published by TAN Books.

Really all you need to now is that this is a new book from Paul Thigpen and for me that is enough to want to read it. A couple of his daily mediation books like A Year with Mary: Daily Meditations on the Mother of God and A Year With the Saints: Daily Meditations with the Holy Ones of God are daily companions. His book Manual for Spiritual Warfare published in 2014 is outstanding and it right drew applause. In some ways his new book is a followup to his book on spiritual warfare. I would guess his extensive research on the subject was an impetus to it.

This book takes the lessons of spiritual warfare and shows how it was concrete in the lives of the saints. Interestingly he starts with the story of Adam and Eve. A case in point that not all spiritual warfare is successful. Where pride rules, the battle is lost. Still it made perfect sense that the first saint he covers is Mary, the New Eve. As she is our solitary boast it is she of whom we should imitate and intercede to for protection. Next up is St. Joseph who has been called the Terror of Demons.

As we move into the life of St. Paul we start to see more solid examples regarding the spiritual life and concrete examples of spiritual warfare. Apt since St. Paul put into military terms this spiritual warfare. St. Paul gives us so many examples of the cross were are to embrace when we try to grow in holiness. Much to learn here in this chapter.

The book then starts to move on to the early martyrs, early church fathers, and other saints up to the present day. When I started reading this book I mentally made a list of the saints who would illustrate this the best. While the ones I really expected were referenced, I was surprised by other saints that I had not thought about in this connection. I also believed I was well-aware of stories regarding St. Teresa of Avila and was interested for find more.

One thing I found reading these stories is that it was easy to fall into a skeptical view regarding this as exuberant hagiographies. That was what I was thinking about such stories long in the past, then it dawned on me that I was not skeptical regarding very similar stories of saints in more modern times such as St. Pio or St. John Vianney. Stories regarding them are rather well-attested. So I realized my skeptical dividing line was rather arbitrary.

A fascinating read with lots of wisdom from the saints.

Messy & Foolish: How to Make a Mess, Be a Fool, And Evangelize the World by Matthew Warner.

This is a short but very annoying book on evangelization. I thought I had sufficiently immunized myself against personal evangelization efforts and this punched through my excuses. So if you had built up excuses why you don’t have to personally do this, then avoid this book. An enticing short read only makes it more dangerous.

Seriously though, I really like how he has taken Pope Francis’s “Make a mess” and provides a framework around it. While I understood what the Pope was getting at by this phrase, it was not a phrase I was particularly warm towards. I really liked how Matthew Warner has put this into context and provided good real world examples of when you have to make a mess before you can put something in order.

I was more open at the start to being a fool as St. Paul laid the groundwork towards being a fool for Christ (1 Cor 4:10) and saints such as St. Francis elaborated just what this means.

I totally enjoyed how this book could be both light-hearted, but not light on actual content. Really I wished parishes would buy this book in bulk to be given out.