Giving thanks

UntitledIt’s a couple of days early, but the season is never wrong for giving thanks. I’ve seen a number of gratitude challenges online this year, and I think it’s a great trend.

Last year at this time, I had just returned from the CWG biennial writers retreat in DeWitt, Michigan. I am thankful that I’m still in touch with most of the people I met there. One has become a close friend in spite of the distance that separates us. Several have become my cheerleaders, and I hope my support buoys others from that special weekend. My life has been immeasurably enriched from that brief time and in getting to know my fellow retreatants/CWG members.

With the perspective of time, I am again reminded how powerful those few days were. I’ve attended other writing retreats along with numerous conferences, but putting our Lord and our Catholic faith at the center of the retreat was key to its uniqueness.

One of the themes that continues to come up in my monthly columns is that of connecting with other writers, whether it be critique based, genre based, special interest based, online, or in person. The Catholic Writers Guild is a great place for Catholic writers to connect. Opportunities abound. The Online Conference usually takes place in February; look for details as the time approaches. 2015′s Live Conference will be in Summit, New Jersey. Check out the website for critique groups. And if you’re not on the CWG Facebook page yet, email one of the officers for an invitation. While a writer’s life is solitary, find strength and encouragement in the fellowship of those who share the passion of the written word.

But most important, for us as Catholics, is the need to connect with God. Sometimes we need to take a step back from the pressures of writing and recall for Whom we write, and why we toil at this sometimes-thankless task. Enjoy your family this Thanksgiving. Work to alleviate hunger, poverty, and loneliness. Use your gifts for the glory of God. Avail yourself of the Sacraments. Spend time in prayer and Adoration.

May God bless the work of your hands, and may you enjoy the company of your fellow saints-in-making during this busy holiday season.


Posted in Catholic Writers Conference Live, Catholic Writers Conference Online, Catholic Writers Guild, Faith, Networking, Religious Liberty | Tagged , | Leave a comment

These Just In: Interesting New Books

These are books that passed the first chapter test. Some are enticing me in spite of myself. Naturally that means that although I haven’t read them yet I wanted to give you a heads up in case they entice you too.

The Ancient Path: Old Lessons from the Church Fathers for a New Life TodayThe Ancient Path: Old Lessons from the Church Fathers for a New Life Today by John Michael Talbot and Michael Aquilina

In the 1970s, John Michael Talbot was new to the Christian faith and developed a habit of looking to the Church Fathers, including St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Augustine and Gregory the Great for guidance. This book tells the story of how these men helped Talbot through spiritual and professional challenges throughout his life, and how these ancient Christians are relevant to the lives of modern believers today.

I’ll be participating in the blog tour for this book. They had me at Aquilina. Then they threw in the Church Fathers and John Michael Talbot whose music, I’ll be honest, I’ve never listened to. However, I’m friends with one of his longtime friends (the main deacon in our parish) and so am interested in his story. Plus, when flipping through I could see his memoir intertwines with the Fathers’ stories in a way that just pulls me in.

Then Comes Baby by Greg and Lisa Popcak

Greg and Lisa Popcak lend readers the benefit of their twenty-five years experience in parenting and marriage and family counseling to help them navigate the earliest years of parenthood. They recommend rituals, routines, and tips on how to manage feeding, fatigue, and finances and how also to prioritize marital bonding and faith life, suggesting that setting the pattern early will pay dividends later … while seeing these everyday experiences through the lens of Catholic teaching on the purpose of family life.

To be honest, I’m not going to actually read this whole book. However, I loved the Popcak’s Just Married book and that gave me the impetus to flip through this one. I saw so much common sense displayed, combined with sensible Catholic grounding, that I resolved to buy two more copies to give to some young mothers I know.

Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas AquinasPractical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas by Peter Kreeft

Here are 359 pieces of wisdom from St. Thomas’s masterpiece, the “Summa Theologiae,” which … have helped Kreeft in the struggles of real life, to live in the real world, to grow closer to the Lord, and he hopes they will do the same for his readers. After each passage directly from Aquinas, Kreeft provides brief spiritual commentary to help explain it and apply it – practical, personal, existential, livable thoughts. He has framed these readings as answers to questions that people actually ask their spiritual directors. Each answer is taken word for word from Aquinas.

I’ve been noting Jeff Miller’s (The Curt Jester) progress with this book at Goodreads. Though he is a fast reader, this book’s been taking him a while. I’ve never been interested in reading Aquinas and Jeff’s slow progress wasn’t inspiring me to get a copy of the book, though I am a Peter Kreeft fan from way back. Then, lo and behold, a review copy came in the mail.

And it happened. Kreeft laid a zinger on me on the very first question …Yes, organized religion is a crutch. You mean you didn’t know that you are a cripple? … and I was hooked. These bits of Aquinas aren’t easy. They require slowing down, mulling them over, and really thinking. It’s been a while since I’ve had to do that. But they definitely look worthwhile. I’ll be working my way through them at a rate of one per day. So in about a year I may be a little wiser. And maybe (fingers crossed!) a bit closer to heaven.

Chastity Is for Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a VirginChastity Is for Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin by Arleen Spenceley

Seasoned journalist and self-professed “happy virgin” Arleen Spenceley offers a mature, funny, and relatable vision of Catholic teaching on chastity for young adults. Chastity Is for Lovers provides perspective on a variety of topics—the difference between chastity and abstinence, how virginity is an affirming and valuable life choice, how the word “purity” can be harmful in ministry settings, how to date well, and why sexual self-control is the best form of marriage preparation—and gives single adults the best possible chance to find true love. She carefully avoids using language that shames readers and instead presents a view of chastity that is joyful and positive.

I’m not the target market for this book but I know lots of young women who are. That’s what made me flip through the book. I kept coming across sections that caught my attention and made me want to know the rest of the story. I finally realized that I’m going to have to read this book even if it isn’t aimed at me. Which says a lot about how personable this author is. And, let’s face it, if I know people in the target market then I need to know what this author’s saying because it could come up in conversation. Such are the times in which we live.

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Monday’s Writing Tips – Act Two, the Journey


Act Two- is the mainstay of your novel. It is the ongoing, recurrent obstacles which your character faces on the journey to their destination or goal. In Act One we met the character. We watched as they either willingly or kicking and screaming left their comfort zone. We know the goal. It can be a physical,  emotional, spiritual, social or even a material goal.     Act Two is about the journey and reaching or failing the goal is all Act Three.

It’s all about the Journey - Why do you think a reader will read a 300 -600 word novel instead of a synopsis? In the synopsis, he would discover the beginning, the middle, and most importantly the ending of the story. It is because the plot or story is not about the ending or the destination, it is about the journey! There are different kind of journeys. When I think about a journey my mind travels to certain stories. Bilbo and the Hobbit, Dorothy and the yellow brick road, Lassie and the journey home. Why are these stories so powerful. It is not about the journeys themselves but the changes that these journeys produce in the characters. Bilbo learns to love adventure instead of comfort. Dorothy learns to appreciate her home. Lassie finds her family and learns that perseverance pays off. The outward journey is just symbolic of the character’s inner journey. The plot or the story that your reader is interested in is the inner journey of the character. It may be positive or negative. But whatever it is, it is all about the transformation of your characters. There are many journeys that a character can take. Let’s examine them.

Emotional – Your character may never leave their setting. However he or she takes an emotional journey that changes them. Do they fall in love? Does that love help them to overcome insecurities or fear? Or does it turn them into a stalker? A mother lies to herself. She denies that her son is a murderer, but as the evidence piles up, she has to face the truth. Does the truth destroy her? Or does she find peace in faith or in helping others? A child goes up in an abusive home and as a result is afraid of others. He hides behind a mask and becomes an actor. However, when fame strikes, he can no longer hide. Does he rise to the occasion, or become reclusive and paranoid? These are examples of what an emotional journey looks like. It is so powerful because most of us have experienced emotional journeys ourselves. It draws us into the plot. We hang on every line wondering what will become of the character and his transformation.

Physical – Your character can make a physical journey. He may be an immigrant or be kidnapped. She could be a refugee. He may join the service and go to war. He may get an assignment and move to another state. Or the physical journey may be more personal. She is an artist and goes blind. He loses his legs in Iraq. She is a model whose beauty is destroyed in a fire. He is a construction worker who loses his arm. She is a bullied high school student who loses an amazing amount of weight  during summer vacation. These are all physical journeys but it is not about the surface story. The plot is about how the character deals with the change. Do they grow or deteriorate. How are they transformed.

Spiritual – Although our world seems to be in denial about the importance of faith it is a powerful part of who we are. One of the most powerful journeys that a character can make is a spiritual one. A faithful Hasidic woman gets a badly needed job outside the community and falls in love with her Muslim boss. Does she leave her community or deny her feelings? A Born – again Christian travels to India and while learning the culture becomes a Hindu. How does he deal with his wife and his children. Will he go along with family and deny his new beliefs or make a break  from country and family. Or how about  a terrorist who is committed to his cause. Undercover in an ‘enemy’ country, he learns to love the principles of the land. When it is time for him to bomb or kill, what does he do? Spiritual journeys can be the most powerful as they cause deep struggles within the character. Again, it is about the character and how the journey changes him.  

Social - A change in social status is a journey that can transform a character negatively or positively. He gets the promotion he has always dreamed of, but does the long hours at work keep him from home and destroy his children? She buys the lottery ticket and becomes an instant millionaire. Does she hoard her money or give it away? Does she know who her real friends are? How does the money change her? He gets caught embezzling and evading taxes. He is instantly plunged into poverty and disgrace. Does his family desert him? Does he become honest? She deserts her true love for a rich man. Does she regret her decision, or does she learn to live with it. Again, it is not about the social change, it is about how the character deals with it.

Material - An actual change in the character’s surroundings can trigger a journey. His house burns down, does he rebuild or kill the fireman who refused to  save it?  He loses his family in an earthquake. What does he find as he searches for his wife and children? Does he find faith or despair? A child loses his parents. Does he adjust to his new life or become bitter? Again it is not about the material change but how the character responds to it.

So Plot is all about the journey, not the destination. Try to reflect on the types of journeys you have had in your own life. We are all on a journey to another and eternal life. How are your travels? What road are you on?

Karen Kelly Boyce lives on a farm in NJ with her retired husband Michael. She has two grown children and two grandchildren. She is an award-winning novelist and writes a children’s series for Chesterton Press

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CWG Prayer Chain Post: November 23, 2014

The CWG Prayer Chain Post is a weekly post for members to include their special intentions by adding a comment.

 Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17

“For the Lord Yahweh says this: Look, I myself shall take care of my flock and look after it. As a shepherd looks after his flock when he is with his scattered sheep, so shall I look after my sheep. I shall rescue them from wherever they have been scattered on the day of clouds and darkness. I myself shall pasture my sheep, I myself shall give them rest — declares the Lord Yahweh. I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the injured and make the sick strong. I shall watch over the fat and healthy. I shall be a true shepherd to them. “As for you, my sheep, the Lord Yahweh says this: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and he-goats.”

The power of prayer and the power of people praying


O God, of Whose mercies there is no number, and of Whose goodness the treasure is infinite; we render thanks to Your most gracious majesty for the gifts You have bestowed upon us, evermore beseeching Your clemency, that as You grant the petitions of them that ask You, You will never forsake them, but will prepare for the reward to come. Through Christ our Lord.

Please leave a comment with your intention. If you have problems adding an intention, email it to Mike Hays at coachhays(at)gmail(dot)com and I will add it.  God bless.

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Your Faith Has Made You Well, by Barbara Hosbach

Thank you Barbara Hosbach for writing, exclusively for me, “Your Faith Has Made You Well.” I’m amazed at how you know me so thoroughly, and I realize that you must have spent hours or even days meditating on each of these scriptures in order to develop such marvelous insights and probing questions, just for me. I don’t mind if others read her latest book, just so they know it’s mine.

Humans require constant healing—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We submit to all sorts of indignities and expenses to obtain wellness. Barbara Hosbach has culled stories of healing from the gospels as illustrations how we may approach Jesus, the Healer. We can expect the unexpected. Jesus will touch us, test us, and turn us from our habitual paths. Like the multitudes who followed Him, we know that Jesus can and will give us what we really need, even if we fail to recognize that need.

Every person that Jesus healed eventually died, so the physical healing wasn’t the most important outcome of their meeting. Barbara Hosbach underscores Jesus’ practice of granting forgiveness of sins before healing a petitioner. She reminds us that in Revelations (12:10), Satan, the “Accuser” will condemn us before the throne of God, while the merciful Jesus will advocate for us. How easy is it for us despair as Satan reveals each of our dark secrets? We may someday stand like spiritual lepers before the Father. Barbara Hosbach reminds us of Jesus’ words to the ten lepers, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Certainly, this is a veiled recommendation that we seek spiritual cleansing in the confessional.

Do you cry out for help, but can’t let go of your self-destructive habits? Are you afraid to trust Jesus who gave up everything to save you? Are you overwhelmed by your sense of unworthiness? Are you bound by rigid rules and regulations that prevent you from loving God, your brothers and sisters? Do you see the sins of others rather than their love and goodness? Do you rely on your talents and intelligence to solve your unsolvable problems, rather than pray unceasingly for God’s guidance and intervention?

Strengthen your faith so that Jesus can make you well. These daily scripture readings, meditations and questions to ponder offered by Barbara Hosbach will advance the healing process by bringing you closer to the Healer and disposing you to receive His healing touch.

Posted in Book Review, Catechetics, Catholic Theme, Catholic Writers Guild, Catholic Writing and Publishing, Devotionals, Inspirational | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Are You Linked In??

chain linksThe social media learning curve is steep! I’m realizing that most people are making less-than-stellar use of it, because each SM channel could be a one-semester course in itself! Here are a few cut-your-time tips for making better use of Linked In:

Improve Your Profile

Add your publications, with purchase links. You can add sample chapters in pdfs. It’s possible to drag sections of the profile around to emphasize your most important points first, in case anyone looks.

Self-employed writers may lack the kind of emphasis on particular job skills that is Linked In’s specialty, but in your profile, you can include various groups you are a part of, or non-profit projects you spearheaded, too. Someone looking for a specifically Catholic writer would be interested to know of your affiliation with a third order, or lay association.

You may not have been looking for a job when you organized a food drive, but that work still says a lot about your heart and your leadership skill. Perhaps you’ll be more interesting as an author to-be-interviewed if your profile gives potential hosts a more well-rounded view of who you are. You can add video (your book trailers, for instance, or clips of you as a speaker) and other kinds of content to the LI profile, making it a more interesting read, even if you aren’t using LI to look for work.

Improve Your Networking

Have you joined groups that are pertinent to your interests? You can search for groups and connect with various Catholic groups, pro-life groups, interest groups, and groups of people in your local area. You can click on the information button (lower case ‘i’ in circle) for more info about any group that interests you.

Join discussions, start discussions or polls, and send occasional messages to individual contacts now and then as authentic reasons come up. I’d hate for you to do any of this manipulatively, in sort of a notch-in-your-belt, acquisitional way. But we really should be looking for opportunities to connect with others who share our faith and interests, right?

I don’t think I’d have enough hanging on all this networking to ever pay for LI-Pro, but it does allow you more access to message other members, if you need that. If you start a group, you may email members free up to once a week. Notice whether any of your contacts has a ring of dots next to their name, which indicates they have chosen to be Open Linked to others, and may be messaged freely. You can use ‘@Name’ now, as on Facebook, to link to anyone you mention in a post, status update, or discussion comment. That’s a fun way to draw the attention of specific people you think may be interested in a discussion or news item, without paying for extra messaging capabilities.

On Linked In, you can create an LI Badge to place in the sidebars of your other sites to shoot people right over to your glorious new LI profile. You can add an LI bookmarklet to your email signature, too.

Improve Your Content

After you beef up your profile with some writing samples, video clips, website links and such, you might want to add Linked In blogging to your list of things to do! It’s a new option, so I mention it, knowing most of us can hardly keep up with our regular blogging. Publish and edit posts from your LI Home Page.

Customize your Pulse by picking and choosing what channels you’re following. The more this LI magazine-style news feed reflects your actual interests, the more natural and easy it will be to share these items with contacts, comment on what others are saying, and get involved in discussion threads. Speaking of discussion threads, I love the way I can leave LI after entering a few discussions, and then keep up with them all via email notifications (if anyone else comments after me).

What kind of content are you sharing, by the way, within your discussion comments and status updates? I get tired of people just reposting their blog posts and selling stuff here, but it’s easy to do. My favorites are shares of links to interesting content, helpful resources, and people who are doing interesting things. My pet peeve is when people use 5 or 12 words to weigh in on a “Tell what you do in exactly 7 words” thread!

For me, LI must be an every-other-week indulgence, but a little time spent there on a regular basis can’t hurt, and might help. I’d like to hear whether you’re into LI, and how that’s working for you. Please comment!

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You Saint, You!

You Saint, You

          In November our Church calls us to remember the remarkable of the Church both recognized (All Saints) and those unrecognized (All Souls). We set up memorial tables, reverence the book of the dead and attend memorial Masses.  All the while taking comfort in the idea that we are doing our duty of remembrance.  We revere the past, but what about the here and now? 

          If someone asks you if you are a saint what would you tell them?  Oh, no, not me, I’m not good enough for that.  Wrong answer!   The Church recognizes two types of saints. Saints with a capital “S” are those we have heard the heroic stories about.  Saints with a lower case “s” are all of us who were/are believers. That makes you and me a saint.  We are all in transition between the little “s” and the big “S”.  That’s what the journey of faith is all about.

As far as the duties of a saint in transition, what are your responsibilities?  We should take no false comfort in the idea that we have prayed for the dead in November.  Rather, its our duty as well as responsibility to be in communication with the Lord and to “do whatever he tells you.” (Jn 2:5)  “ To become a saint means to fulfill completely what we already are, raised to the dignity of God’s adopted children in Christ Jesus….” ( Pope Benedict XVI)


 Saint Who?

Holy, weird, creepy,

Which is it that qualifies one for Saint Hood?

All of the above.

None of the Above.

It’s bigger than all that!

Saint…… a way of thinking

A matter of the heart,

and not that foreign to any of us!

People who weep,

People who yell,

People who laugh,

People who fight for cause,

People who live life and keep their far away vision always new,

No matter what,

………Saint You!

Kathryn Cunningham


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Monday’s Writing Tips – The Plot!


Have you ever noticed that nature loves the number three? There are three dimensions of space: height, width, and depth. There are three main types of matter: gaseous, liquid, and solid. There are three main types of massive objects: planets, stars, and galaxies. There are also three types of natural laws: the laws of physics, the laws of chemistry, and the laws of biology.

Decorators tell us that we are delighted and attracted to the pattern of three. They say never to place two objects on a table or mantle. Instead, they instruct us to always use three non-matching objects because it pleases the eye, and soothes the spirit. Why am I telling you this? Because the natural and most pleasing plot has three parts.  It is a formula of storytelling, joke-telling, and speech giving that has existed since the ancient Greeks. No doubt cavemen  told hunting tales that patterned the number three and kept their listeners huddled around the campfire.

As a Catholic, I like to think of the occurrence of the number three in nature as a reflection of the Trinity. Our spirit is comfortable with the Trinity, so we are comfortable with the number three. You can try to change the standard formula of storytelling but it will seem unnatural and clumsy. I recommend that you stick to it. It is a framework that contains your story and keeps it understandable and strong. It does not constrain your creativity, as in oil paintings, it is the frame that compliments it. What are the three parts to a good story, joke, or speech.? Plays are usually also in three acts so why don’t we call the parts of our plot acts. Let’s talk about Act One of your novel this week.

Act One – this is the first part of your story and it  is the part that should hook your reader. Act One introduces your basic story. Is it a romance? Is it a zombie takeover?  Is it an action - packed spy thriller? As a reader I want to know! I want to understand the journey I am about to take. I want to trust the author and know that he or she is taking me to a place that is unique but comfortable. It doesn’t matter what genre it is. The basic framework of the tale is the same. I have picked the genre because it is something that I enjoy, someplace that I have journeyed before. If I want to time-travel through the galaxy, I first traveled to the Science Fiction aisle of my bookstore.  If I dream of young love and the thrill of meeting that special person, I first scanned the selections offered in  the romance section of amazon.

Don’t fool the reader. They will never forgive you. If they think they have settled down in their cozy reading chair to puzzle out a murder mystery and it turns into a  zombie apocalypse, they will be disappointed. It could be the best zombie adventure ever written but it still annoy the reader that you tricked him into buying something they didn’t want. Reading is comfortable. In today’ s world where life is unpredictable By the end of the first few pages your reader should have an idea of where you are taking him. Your audience (and I use the word ‘audience’ purposely) should feel safe after reading your first act. Why do I call your readership an audience. Because, as a writer, your first job is to tell an entertaining tale. You are no different than the story-tellers who roamed the lanes and villages of ancient Europe. Before people could read, these storytellers and bards kept history alive by sharing tales stories of battles and heroes. Imagine what would have happened if they started to tell the village about an exciting battle and then turned the story into political discussion. They would have been run out of town. And yet, I have picked up many a novel that made that switch on me. What happened? I put the book down and never picked it up again. I felt as if I had been conned.

In Act One of your novel the reader should also meet the lead character, and develop an emotional attachment to that character. That doesn’t mean that your character needs to be lovable. He can be a flawed hero or even a messed – up confused criminal. However, if you want your reader to connect.  If you want your reader to continue reading you need to make your character interesting and unique.

This is the part of the novel (the first 1/5) that lays out the conflict. Remember that a novel needs conflict. Your character is shown in his comfort zone. Then something pushes him out of his comfort zone. In this part of the novel, the character makes a choice – Does he return to his comfort zone (no novel) or does he take the challenge?( Now that’s a novel!) Your novel can be action - based or character- based. The conflict can be physical and fast-paced.  It can be spiritually-based and emotional but the conflict needs to be presented in the early part of the novel. It is good to introduce the nemesis in this part also. Set up the conflict with a sympathetic character who is challenged and you have a ‘hooked’ reader. If you can do it in the first few sentences or paragraphs you have your hook.

I looked up the word.  It is interesting to see exactly what the word means. I don’t believe in coincidence.

Two of the definitions offered by Webster-Merriam are:

1plot noun \ˈplät\

1)  a small piece of land in a cemetery.

2) a series of events that form the story in a novel, movie, etc.

The point being, your plot shouldn’t be so obscure and complex that the reader has to dig it up to understand it. And it shouldn’t be so predictable that the reader ends up dead from boredom. Next week we will discuss Act Two of your plot!

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CWG Prayer Chain Post: November 16, 2014

The CWG Prayer Chain Post is a weekly post for members to include their special intentions by adding a comment.

 Titus 3:1-7

Remind them to be obedient to the officials in authority; to be ready to do good at every opportunity; not to go slandering other people but to be peaceable and gentle, and always polite to people of all kinds. There was a time when we too were ignorant, disobedient and misled and enslaved by different passions and dissipations; we lived then in wickedness and malice, hating each other and hateful ourselves. But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour for humanity were revealed, it was not because of any upright actions we had done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own faithful love that he saved us, by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit which he has so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our Saviour; so that, justified by his grace, we should become heirs in hope of eternal life.

The power of prayer and the power of people praying


O God, of Whose mercies there is no number, and of Whose goodness the treasure is infinite; we render thanks to Your most gracious majesty for the gifts You have bestowed upon us, evermore beseeching Your clemency, that as You grant the petitions of them that ask You, You will never forsake them, but will prepare for the reward to come. Through Christ our Lord.

Please leave a comment with your intention. If you have problems adding an intention, email it to Mike Hays at coachhays(at)gmail(dot)com and I will add it.  God bless.

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What I’ve Been Reading: The Mostly 5-Star Stuff

Some quick looks at books I’ve enjoyed lately which you may not hear talked about much.

The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth CenturyThe Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a superbly written book which gives you excellent insight into what it would have been like to live back in the 1300s, by the simple method of acting as a travel book for your trip through time. I had several stereotypes upset (they did like to bathe and noticed people who smelled bad), was made to think of things which never occurred to me (such as how bad a pothole really can get), and most of all was able to relate to the human beings who lived in those days.

As is often the case, what we find is that human beings are still the same now as then, in our loves, hobbies, fears, and ambitions. Most of all I appreciated the author taking the trouble to remind us that these were real people who felt as we do. He didn’t dwell on it excessively or bring it up often, but when he did it was just what was needed to jolt me out of my modern “superiority.”

The Princess and the Goblin The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book my mother has long tried to get me to read since it was a childhood favorite of hers. Over the years I have heard it was also a favorite of C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, G.K. Chesterton and (possibly) J.R.R. Tolkien. With all that going for it, you’d think I’d have jumped on the bandwagon long ago.

It took me finding this LibriVox recording from one of my favorite narrators who has lamentably few books recorded, Andy Minter. He is simply superb. I get that delicious feeling of being a child snuggled down for a story being read by a favorite uncle as I am listening. It was funny, sweet, exciting, and was very enjoyable indeed.

One Bright Star to Guide ThemOne Bright Star to Guide Them by John C. Wright

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m not sure how Wright did this. This novella picks up the idea of what happens when the children who were once engaged on a grand adventure (a la The Lion and the Wardrobe) reach middle age. The adventure has been sublimated to the necessities of adult life. When the call goes out for their heroic talents how will they respond? What will be the consequences for each of them? And for the rest of the world?

This is a very deep story with much to ponder and it promises rich enjoyment upon rereading. I now want the sequel.

Tales Before Tolkien: The Roots of Modern FantasyTales Before Tolkien: The Roots of Modern Fantasy by Douglas A. Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an anthology of short stories (specifically fantasy) that J.R.R. Tolkien read and which could have sparked his imagination. It is the sort of book where I don’t feel I have to painstakingly read every story if one isn’t the sort I like. A quick skimming is perfectly adequate to give me the gist.

I’ve been surprised at how many of the stories I have enjoyed and how many have a fresh, modern feel considering how old they are (most from 1919 and earlier).

I also enjoyed the author’s story introductions and the fact that he didn’t try to force the idea that Tolkien read each of these or that each influenced him. It is enough that this is the fantasy atmosphere which was floating around during his formative and reading years before he began writing.

Tales Before Narnia: The Roots of Modern Fantasy and Science FictionTales Before Narnia: The Roots of Modern Fantasy and Science Fiction by Douglas A. Anderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As with this editor’s Tales Before Tolkien, this collection presents not only tales Lewis read but those which would have been in the current story environment when he was growing up. A really wonderful collection and one which I enjoyed thoroughly, all the moreso for the inclusion of short stories by some of Lewis’s fellow Inklings who are lesser known.

I didn’t feel I had to painstakingly read every story if one wasn’t the sort I like. A quick skimming was perfectly adequate to give me the gist. If one approaches it that way then you will probably like it just as much as I did.

H.P. Lovecraft's Favorite Weird Tales: The Roots of Modern HorrorH.P. Lovecraft’s Favorite Weird Tales: The Roots of Modern Horror by Douglas A. Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I come to this book via two influences. The first is that of The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast which, when they finished discussing all of Lovecraft’s writing, then proceeded to read the authors and stories mentioned in his influential essay, Supernatural Horror in Literature. Hence, I’ve heard many of these stories discussed even though I haven’t read them.

Secondly, this was a logical progression after reading Douglas A. Anderson’s Tales Before Narnia and Tales Before Tolkien, both of which I greatly enjoyed.

This collection earns an additional star than Anderson’s other anthologies simply because I am enjoying every single story in it. That speaks more to my enjoyment of weird tales than to Anderson’s selection but it is a fact that this is the collection I’ll be buying and rereading in the future.

The Problem of PainThe Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If there is a God, then why is there so much suffering and pain in the world?

This is a common problem brought up by atheists and C. S. Lewis says it was a problem for him before he became Christian. Somehow it’s not a question that ever bothered me whether I believed or didn’t. So I welcomed the premise of the book since that’s a question that always stops me in my tracks. I also was happy to see my library had it available on audio.

This is one of those books that pulls no punches. In his trademark style, Lewis applies logic, common sense, and his considerable breadth of knowledge to the question. Whether he convinces any unbelievers or not, I don’t know. But he includes so much that I either agreed with or found to be “mooreeffoc” thinking that I now want to get the print version for leisurely rereading.

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