Thought I’d share some brief reviews of the books I’ve finished lately. (I didn’t intend to let the list get this long before I shared, but it does work nicely for Quick Takes Friday…)

1. Suspense and Humor

Death of a Liturgist, by Lorraine Murray

Any doubts I had about this book were resolved in the first few pages. Father Bunt is assigned to a new parish, much larger than his old one and feels quite out of his league. The natural thing to do, then, is to hire a liturgist, right? Not everyone agrees, though Father is a bit blind to the chaos and upheaval said liturgist is causing. And then, the liturgist is dead! Foul play? Who’s to blame? Discovering the answer will keep you turning pages AND keep you laughing (at least if you’re like me…having worked in a parish office for a number of years, I couldn’t help myself). Highly recommended.

2. A Gem of a Bible Study

Who Is Jesus Christ? Unlocking the Gospel of Matthew, by Eric Sammons

This book smacked of “Bible study” and maybe the brilliant author will forgive me for having put off reading my review copy for so very long. Because, you know what? It wasn’t at all what I expected. Sammons’s style is not only approachable and entertaining, but the premise of the book is one that I appreciated. Instead of going through Matthew verse by verse, Sammons takes each title of Jesus used in the Gospel and compiles it into a section. There are 25 of these (why was I surprised by that number?), and they’re all done completely and yet succinctly. After reading this book, I truly do feel like I know Jesus a little better…and that I want to pursue the Gospels to get to know Him even better. This was not only unlike any other study I’ve seen, but also a way of making the Gospel truly real and living. Highly recommended.

3. Great Writing but Troublesome Themes

Glass Halo, by Colleen Smith

I couldn’t keep my hands off this book, once I started it, though I’ve been wondering, for almost a month, if that was because it was well-written or tantalizing. I’ve concluded that it was both, which still troubles me a bit, because I can’t determine if what was so tantalizing about the book was concluded in a way that I agree with as a Catholic. Because I hate spoilers, I’m going to be a bit careful here. This book involves possibly scandalous topics, and I’m not sure it concludes them consistently or in a manner that upholds the Catholic Church. Is there redemption at the end? Have we learned a lesson? Far more than any other novel I’ve read recently, this book has made me shuffle my feet and wonder. It does an excellent job of portraying a priest as a real human being, a man who struggles, and the characters in this book are living and breathing and more than a little bit just like the people you could meet in real life. Any recommendation I have comes with a caution.

4. When the Truth Can Hold My Attention Like a Novel

Unplanned, by Abby Johnson

I landed a review copy of this after a friend had graciously mailed me her copy. Once I opened the cover, I was hooked. It’s fast-moving and tightly written. It might tear your heart apart, but it will undoubtedly give you hope for the future. Johnson’s story is powerful in part because it could be the story of so many of us. She brings to light, so well, that on both sides of the pro-life and pro-choice lines, many people have the goal of helping women (as opposed to increasing abortions). Her journey from director of a Planned Parenthood center to major pro-life advocate is one that spoke to me on many levels. Highly recommended.

5. Fiction that Made Me Think

Until I Return: Dawn of the Shining Darkness, by Kenneth Nowell

Here’s another compelling piece of fiction (also by a Catholic author). Though I am usually annoyed by things apocalyptic, I was engaged by this novel. It bills itself as a “contemporary spiritual thriller,” and I guess that describes it as well as anything. There was good characterization and a fast-moving plot. I didn’t explore the footnotes, but there seems to be a wealth of actual information referenced, which could lead to further reading. What I enjoyed most was that I didn’t figure it out. Will I read the next book in the trilogy? We’ll see. I just might.

6. Grief in a Nutshell

A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis

I’ve been working my way through Peter Kreeft’s audio lectures, and after listening to his lecture on this book twice, I found a used copy and devoured it. I’ll be reading it again, because though it’s short, it’s thought-provoking and I think I took in a small portion of what’s there to take. I have been especially chewing on the idea that, after your loved one dies, they can become someone different to you in your memory. You forget the little details that make them who they are (by necessity?), and instead you are left with a shadow. Lewis maintains that this is natural; the way he explains it is actually quite beautiful. Though it made me sad, a bit, it also made me smile. (Lewis has that effect on me.)

7. Happy to be Catholic

Happy Catholic: Glimpses of God in Everyday Life, by Julie Davis

I know I reviewed this in full already, but I needed a seventh take, and this one bears mentioning again (and again…and again…). Whether you’re Catholic or not, the quotes and insights in this thin volume are worth your time. As I said before, this is the perfect devotional for the busiest person you know (and that includes YOU).

What have you been reading lately? Got any recommendations?

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