In this sweeping journey story that spans nearly a century, Craig Russell writes an intriguing new riff on the classic cautionary tales about making a deal with the devil.
Rembrandt was only a kid in 1927 when his two aunts made a deal with the devil. In order to redeem their souls, Rembrandt and his father set out on a quest to find a champion. The catch: they can’t stay in any one place for more than 12 days.
Black Bottle Man spans three quarters of a century. Rembrandt journeys across much of America searching for redemption for his family- and himself.
What’s to like in Black Bottle Man
Russell’s style is very readable and flows well. I liked his choice to focus on the consequences of curses and devil-dealing across generations. Fundamentally, what he’s saying about deals with the devil applies to all sin. Our sins impact others outside ourselves, far more than we can imagine. Only after death will we know how our sins affected our children, relatives, even grandchildren and beyond.
Black Bottle Man also explores self-sacrifice and what true freedom and happiness looks like. Rembrandt and his father choose to seek redemption for their family. They live in a certain peace and interior freedom, knowing they are trying to seek heaven even if the journey seems long and even hopeless. In contrast, Rembrandt’s aunts are tortured by their sin: unhappy even though they got the children they desperately wanted.
C. S. Lewis tells us in The Screwtape Letters that one of the devils’ tricks is to make us believe they don’t actually exist or take an active part in earthly drama. I like that Black Bottle Man portrays the devil as a real being you can fight. The message that demons are real and bent on dragging us to Hell is really brought home in this book.
Here’s the picky mom in me’s thoughts on why I wouldn’t hand my younger teen this book. The plot includes a situation where Rembrandt’s two married aunts both sleep with one of the aunt’s intoxicated husband to get pregnant. There is not a graphic description, but Rembrandt remembers seeing them from a distance.
Second, parts of the book are a coming of age story as Rembrandt remembers being a drifting teenager. His recalling of his first crush is too overtly focused on physical desire in my opinion. Lots of descriptions of him obsessing over trying not to stare at a girl’s breasts, which is nice on the one hand, but on the other did we really need that detail repeatedly?
Any other content? No language and no drug or alcohol glorification. There’s a decent amount of offscreen violence, but nothing too graphically described and no glorification of violence.
Black Bottle Man is filled with solid themes about self-sacrifice, redemption, forgiveness, and what love really looks like. But there’s also a bit of sexual content that might make you want to think twice before offering it to your younger teens. This is one of those case by case judgment calls depending on you and your child’s sensitivity levels.
Looking for other ideas for your teens? Check out My Book Lists for lots of ideas!
One of the tags I use here on GoodBooksforCatholicKids.com is Turkish Delight. This tag, and indeed the book review portion of the blog, was inspired by a particular chapter in C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe titled “Turkish Delight.” I’ve read The Chronicles of Narnia at least a dozen times, and over these many re-reads I began to see an analogy between Turkish Delight and certain books.
In the chapter “Turkish Delight,” Edmund enters Narnia for the first time and almost immediately meets the White Witch. She offers him food and he asks for Turkish Delight, which she magically produces. Lewis describes the confection in mouth-watering fashion: “Each piece was sweet and light to the very center and Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious.” But really, of course, the candy was quite dangerous, even deadly: it confused the eater’s mind and eventually leads to death.
“While he was eating the Queen kept asking him questions. At first Edmund tried to remember that it is rude to speak with one’s mouth full, but soon he forgot about this and thought only of trying to shovel down as much Turkish Delight as he could, and the more he ate the more he wanted to eat, and he never asked himself why the Queen should be so inquisitive. . . .
[T]his was enchanted Turkish Delight and anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves.”
~ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis
Of course, the reader can easily extrapolate the symbol of Turkish Delight to apply to many categories of temptations and vices. For me, though, Turkish Delight always symbolized a certain type of book: easily inhaled, pleasant, addictive, and with poisonous content that killed the soul.
Weakening and Addictive
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the Witch offers rooms full of Turkish Delight- unlimited light, easy pleasure- in exchange for Edmund bringing her his siblings. At first, it’s hard to imagine how Edmund can be willing to trade his siblings and soul for more candy. But if you consider that Lewis is using Turkish Delight as an allegory for temptation and sin, the puzzle of Edmund’s actions becomes clearer. A temptation succumbed to is a sin, and sin weakens the soul. So Turkish Delight weakens Edmund’s ability to clearly discern the good and withstand future temptations. Lewis describes that after eating the enchanted food, Edmund starts “becoming a nastier person by the minute.”
Turkish Delight and Books
On my blog, books tagged Turkish Delight are examples of unwholesome literature that results in weakening of the soul. Good literature has great power to inspire positive changes in mindset. On the flip side, unwholesome literature results in bad attitudes and negative behavior changes. As a case in point, after my popular Review of Diary of a Wimpy Kid came out, I had several parents reach out and tell me how they knew their must be something wrong with the book from their children’s worsening behavior after reading it.
Ruining Appreciation of the Good
Later in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Edmund can’t enjoy a delicious, wholesome meal when he returns to Narnia. At the Beaver’s House, he can’t appreciate the simple but delicious food he was served:
“He had eaten his share of the dinner, but he hadn’t really enjoyed it because he was thinking all the time about Turkish Delight- and there’s nothing that spoils the taste of good ordinary food half so much as the memory of bad magic food.”
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
How many kids can’t seem to enjoy classics like Tom Sawyer, The Melendys, Swallows and Amazons, Treasure Island, or Little Britches anymore? In many cases, I think this is the result of exposure to Turkish Delight style literature.
How to avoid Turkish Delight books?
Inevitably, your children will eventually stumble upon books that are of the Turkish Delight category. The best way to help your children develop the ability to recognize and avoid books which are unwholesome is to help them develop an appetite for good books. How? Buy great books. Borrow them from the library or a friend if you can’t buy them. Read them aloud to your little children, and have them available for your older children. Need ideas of great books? Check out my Books Lists for thousands of ideas!
Have a child who loves Narnia? Look at this list of great fantasy series for Catholic kids and teens:
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What kid doesn’t love The Chronicles of Narnia? As an 8-12 year old, it was one of my favorite series, and I still enjoy re-reading it as an adult.
The question is: what to read after Narnia? What other fantasy books can satisfy after such a wonderful series?
This question is particularly tricky given the murkiness about magic, magical powers, witches, and sorcerers commonly found in popular contemporary fantasy series. More insidious but even more harmful is the dualism and Gnostic worldview often normalized in fantasy series.
But don’t lose hope! Today I bring you an entire list of wholesome series for your kids and teens to devour after finishing Narnia.
The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander tell a wonderful coming of age story and adventure. Over the course of the five books, a young man named Taran grows from being a rebellious teen to a valiant and courageous warrior, in the process forging friendships, finding love, and helping save a kingdom.
Recommended for 10 and older.
Redwall by Brian Jacques has delighted generations of children with its amusing animal heroes, high feasts, and epic battles. This series is satisfyingly long: a whopping 22 books. Some of the later volumes drag, but be sure and buy the first six books at least, which are excellent!
Recommended for 10 and older.
In the Hall of the Dragon King is the first of Stephen Lawhead’s Dragon King Trilogy. Complete with heroic quests, giant serpents, fair maidens to rescue, and a chilling necromancer to defeat, this series is guaranteed to please fantasy lovers. But it also has a solid plot, well-developed characters, and a Christian worldview.
Recommended for 12 and older.
The Green Ember Series by S. D. Smith is a Narnia-like series of epic adventure and talking animals that gets bonus points for being written with a clearly Christian world view. Best of all, it is free to download as an Ebook so you can preview it before deciding whether to buy a paper copy.
Recommended for 10 and older.
E. Nesbit’s classic children’s books that blend magic, adventure, family, and outdoor fun are coming back into print. Five Children and It and The Phoenix and the Carpet are just two of her many fine books, which make great read-alouds or independent reads.
Recommended for 8 and older.
The Ruins of Gorlan is the first book in John Flanagan’s captivating 12 volume Ranger’s Apprentice Series. These exciting tales follow teenage Will and his friends as they grow from impulsive teens into capable adults. Battling evil creatures, they learn to rely on one another. Each possessing a different talent, they must learn to cooperate. The characters do grow older during hte series, so this is a great series to dole out a book at a time as your child gets older.
First book recommended for 10 and older.
Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis are the clear must-reads on this list in my opinion. Similar to Narnia in that they are allegorical, they are written for an adult audience and explore deeper questions about creation, the nature of man, and the will for power.
Recommended for 14 and older.
To conclude with the master, everything by J. R. R. Tolkien is naturally recommended for fantasy fans. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy should be a part of any home library. Don’t forget The Silmarillion and The Great Tales of Middle-earth also! They provide fascinating details about the making of middle earth and the tales of many of the heroes mentioned in passing in the Lord of the Rings.
Suffering. We all experience little sufferings on a daily basis. And sometimes, we experience great sufferings: when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, when a baby is lost, when a marriage crumbles, when a hurricane destroys one’s home, when a child falls away from the faith.
In moments of intense pain, we find ourselves confronted with the age old question: how can a loving God allow His children to suffer such pain? We ask, “Why, God? Why me? Why my child?” Or we meet friends who have fallen away from the Catholic faith because, “God let bad things happen to me.”
Fortunately, as Catholics, we have thousands of years of the human race’s most brilliant minds to look to for answers. Here are some of the books which have helped me come to terms with “The Problem of Pain,” as C. S. Lewis calls it.
To begin with a little philosophy, The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius is a particularly powerful tool in dialoguing with agnostics and atheists. Boethius relies solely on natural reason and Hellenic philosophy as he explains why bad things happen to good people.
Historically juxtaposed to Boethius is the Book of Job, the Hebrew look at the problem of evil and suffering. Although much of the Old Testament seems to imply that God inflicts suffering as a punishment for sins committed by individuals, the story of Job offers a completely different perspective. Job is the innocent, good man who still loses everything he loves and undergoes intense suffering. Look it up in your Bible if you’ve never read it. Also, if you enjoy fiction, G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday explores many of the same themes found in Job.
In a personal favorite of mine, The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis contemplates suffering and human pain with his usual lucidity and conciseness. I find his way for harmonizing a good God and the problem of suffering particularly helpful. He also has a fascinating chapter towards the end of the book in which he speculates about animals and heaven.
Another favorite author of mine, Peter Kreeft, takes on suffering in his book Making Sense Out of Suffering. Kreeft’s book is an apologia for the Catholic understanding of suffering as meaningful.
Sheldon Vanauken lost the love of his life to a terminal illness after a far too short marrigae. A Severe Mercy is both heartbreakingly tragic and breathtakingly beautiful. This is a powerful true story of how the death of a loved one can lead to a greater good.
Another powerful personal testimony, in Man’s Search for Meaning Jewish psychiatrist Victor Frankl describes his soul-crushing experience of spending three years in concentration camps during World War II. During his imprisonment, Frankl had to watch his pregnant wife and family all die from hardship and starvation. Yet Frankl’s book is full of hope and a message about finding meaning in suffering.
Have you ever promised your kids they can see a movie after they finish a book? Here are some awesome books which are also enjoyable movies appropriate for children ten and up. In fact, most of these movies might be enjoyed by the whole family, so consider reading aloud the book, and then having a family movie night!
Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry and its film adaption Misty is the perfect book and movie duo for children who love animals, particularly horses. Marguerite Henry’s poignant story of love and loss on the Outer Banks of North Carolina is equally appreciated by adults.
Redwall by Brian Jacques is a modern children’s classic about an animal world full of intrigue and battle, loyalty and betrayal, and the most delectable feasts imaginable. The animated movie based on the book is quite funny: Redwall-The Adventures Begin.
If you have a kid who loves graphic novels, try gifting them a copy of The Adventures of Tintin by Herge. The recent movie adaption is good fun for anyone over ten, or even younger if not bothered by mild animated violence: The Adventures of Tintin.
In Search of the Castaways: The Children of Captain Grant is a lesser known work by Jules Verne of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea fame. I have enjoyed every Jules Verne book I ever read, and this one is no exception. Mary and Robert Grant embark on an epic treasure hunt around the globe to find their shipwrecked father. It was adapted rather successfully into a fun film starring the Mary Poppins children: In Search Of The Castaways. This one is sure to become a family favorite.
The Swiss Family Robinson is a case where the movie may be better known than the book. The Swiss Family Robinson movie is a classic family film, and the book has even more interesting details about how the Robinson family survived on the island.
There are several film adaptations of A Little Princess, but my favorite is this version of A Little Princess, since I felt the film really captured the magic of Sarah’s imagination.
L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz still offers children an escape into a magical world, but also the message that “there’s no place like home.” The old Judy Garland film is still magical too: The Wizard of Oz.
I think the old version of the Anne of Green Gables Trilogy was well done, and captured the spirit of Anne well. And as you may know from my post about the Anne of Green Gables Series, I thoroughly approve of the books by L. M. Montgomery. I recommend reading and watching these for over twelves.
I love reading almost anything. Even calculus books and Russian novels. But when on vacation, I generally crave lighter literary fare. If sandy beaches or mountain views are in your not so distant future, here are some fun light novels to help you rest and rejuvenate. They’re organized by genre so pick your favorite flavor.
Christian fiction is a genre I recently spent some time exploring. My research netted me many poorly written novels I dropped after a few chapters, but also some clean, enjoyable mysteries, adventures, and romances, perfect for a vacation.
Dani Pettrey’s Submerged is a fast-paced mystery/romance set in beautiful Alaska. Pettrey is a decent writer and this book has a sweet theme about second chances and redemption. If you fall in love with the characters, there are several sequels including Shattered and Stranded.
Dee Henderson’s books vary greatly in quality, but I did enjoy her O’Malley series. The Negotiator is the first in a series of seven books about a family of adopted siblings who each work in a law enforcement or first-responder type career. Each book recounts an exciting mystery while also tackling a faith-related question such as the Resurrection, trust in God, or why bad things happen to good people. The answers Henderson provides to these questions are not always complete, but a Catholic reader can practice their apologetic skills and think about even better answers!
Long Time Coming by Edie Claire was a thriller with a twist: the biggest villain may not be a villain. A thought-provoking look at psychology, prejudice, and buried memories, with a healthy dose of romance to lighten the mood.
Leslie Lynch is actually a Catholic author, and the mention of subjects like theology of the body gives her novels a unique flavor. Her Appalachian Foothills series is another sequence of adventure-romance style novels about young women with dark troubled pasts who find healing through friendship, love, and the Catholic church. Kudos for a positive portrayal of Catholics, but also a warning that Lynch’s books are darker than most other Christian fiction, involving subjects like rape, abortion, and addictions.
Michael O’Brien’s Voyage to Alpha Centauri: A Novel might not actually be the best book to haul on vacation if you’re flying at over 800 pages, but if you’re not worried about tonnage, it is a typical O’Brien novel: thought-provoking, creative, and well-told.
I love a good mystery, and have yet to find a modern author that matches the brilliance of the writers in the golden age of mystery! Also, I appreciate that these writers were able to tell a captivating story without needing to have the sleuths be sidetracked with lurid sex scenes.
You can’t go wrong with an Agatha Christie such as Ordeal by Innocence. Her mysteries are fast-paced, well-plotted, and utterly bewildering. She is truly the Queen of Mystery.
However, don’t overlook her contemporary and fellow female author Dorothy Sayers. I actually enjoy Sayers’ books even more than Christie’s. Her sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey, introduced in Whose Body?, actually does fall in love with a woman on trial for murder in Strong Poison. Their tempestuous courtship and marriage add interest to the mysteries they make a hobby of solving together.
Margery Allingham is another golden age mystery author. Her detective, Albert Campion, stars in a long series of novels including Look to the Lady, a whodunit, and The Tiger in the Smoke. Allingham’s mysteries are clever, but also follow the life events and character development of Campion.
Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals is a new favorite of mine. Check out my Review of My Family and Other Animals for more details about this hilarious book, perfect for lovers of all creatures great and small.
Leave It to Psmith by P. G. Wodehouse could, or to be more accurate has, made me smile during some of the most trying seasons of life. And on vacation? My husband and I laugh till we cry at this master writer’s spot on similes and knack for situational comedy. If you have not read Jeeves & Wooster, you need to. You will be a more cheerful person after encountering Wodehouse. Also your vocabulary will expand tremendously.
Although you may not immediately think of L. M. Montgomery in conjunction with comedy, I actually find her depictions of small town life and insight into human flaws and foibles quite amusing. Anne of Green Gables‘s escapades are even funnier to read as an adult, and the later Anne books are actually meant for adults.
I won’t deny that Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Emma are her best works, but if you haven’t read some of her lesser known books, they are a perfect length and lightness for a vacation! For example, Northanger Abbey is a clever satire of Gothic novels.
Kristin Lavransdatter is has a graver theme and tone than most of the books on this list, but if you are more of a classics fans, then you won’t be disappointed by this sweeping tale by the master writer Sigrid Undset. If you have already enjoyed reading about Kristen, Undset’s The Master of Hestviken trilogy is also excellent.
Gone with the Wind is certainly worth reading. Margaret Mitchell’s novel captures the aura of the Civil War so vividly, and her heroine is so unforgettable (both for spirit and selfishness), that this novel just flies by despite its length.
If you are fascinated by World War II, read Aline’s unique account of her involvement in The Spy Wore Red. From clothing model in a department store to undercover agent to Countess, Aline’s life is colorful and captivating.
I also enjoyed The Zookeeper’s Wife, an account of how one family’s courage made a small difference and saved lives during the turmoil and persecution of World War II.
Without having watched a single episode of the hit TV show Fixer Upper, I read The Magnolia Story on a friend’s recommendation. What a beautiful story about a couple filled faith in God and each other.
Who doesn’t love the Sound of Music? But I love The Story of the Trapp Family Singers even more. Maria Von Trapp recounts the real story which inspired the beloved movie. Heartwarming and imbued with love for the Catholic faith, this book has always been a favorite of mine.