On this feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, I want to tell you about The Imitation of Mary, an exceptional new book from Father Quan Tran.
The Imitation of Mary
The Imitation of Mary: Keys to Growth in Virtue and Grace isn’t just a reflection on the life of Mary. It’s a handbook to help any Catholic deepen their spirituality with concrete, practical advice and exercises. Father Tran chooses 12 essential qualities of Mary and uses each quality as a springboard to explain many different ways to deepen your relationship with God and transform your spiritual disposition. The Marian qualities Father Tran focuses on include: humility, confidence in God, union with God, joy in the Lord, docility to God’s will, abandonment to Divine Providence, and more! Each chapter ends with specific suggestions to help you implement the studied quality in your own life.
A Valuable Synthesis of Spiritual Wisdom over the Ages
Father Tran gleans kernels of spiritual advice from centuries of Catholic saints and theologians and collects them into this well-organized book. You’ll find a phenomenal explanation of Ignatian discernment, a straightforward take on the four common obstacles to faith, and a thoughtful reflection on the mystery of suffering- all in one book! Drawing on everything from St. Faustina to Pascal to the Catechism to the SummaTheologica to the Bible, Father Tran explains how to implement theMarian qualities which will lead us to holiness.
A Must-have for the Catholic Family Library
The Imitation of Mary achieves that delicate balance of being both easily readable and extremely educational. It’s a book I plan to keep to share with my children as they reach the high school years. This book would make an excellent gift for a new adult Catholic or Confirmandi, but also has many riches to offer for Catholics who are looking for a way to deepen their faith in concrete and practical ways.
Would it surprise you to learn I don’t have a single favorite book of all time? As any true bibliophile knows, asking a book worm to choose a favorite book is like asking a parent to pick a favorite child. It’s just not done.
Even choosing a list of favorites is almost impossible. The only way I can pick favorites is by having a clear purpose. So here you have my favorite books for Catholic book clubs. You’ll find a mix of classics and modern classics and a few quirky little known titles. In a book club, the main criterion is that the book provokes a good discussion, so don’t be surprised to see controversial titles on here!
7 Classic Books for your Book Club
Evelyn Waugh’s classic story about Charles Ryder’s unexpected conversion is sure to spark a lively discussion. Does he convert due to the troubled Catholic family he meets or despite them?
Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter is a lovely, thoughtful social commentary on the evolution and disappearance of family farming over the course of one woman’s life. Bittersweet and thought-provoking, this is one of the best books I read this year.
Steinbeck’s East of Eden is a sweeping American generational story. His very realistic characters plumb the depths of sin yet show the flashes of grace in everyday life. For a much shorter yet equally gripping Steinbeck novel, try The Pearl.
Consider Golden Age of Mystery detective story writers like Dorothy Sayers or Agatha Christie for a lighter classic book club pick. Gaudy Night is often called Dorothy Sayers’ best work. Agatha Christie said one of her favorite mysteries was Crooked house.
Here’s an early example of dystopian literature that is particularly relevant today. Bradbury’s creepy yet captivating story about freedom of speech and thought is as timely now as when it was published.
G. K. Chesterton’s name is synonymous with perfect paradoxes and incredible ingenuity in imagination in the best literary circles. For a first foray into this masterful Catholic writer’s fiction, try Manalive or The Man Who was Thursday. For non-fiction, I recommend trying The Everlasting Man.
The beloved Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux is brought to Catholics in a reader-friendly meditation style in I Believe in Love. This makes a lovely book to read during Lent, Advent, or any time you desire a spiritual classic.
Quiet was a transformative book for me in accepting and even embracing my identity as an introvert. I recommend it for a book club that likes science-backed books. Introverted Mom is a similar introvert-focused book with a more personal, feelings-based flavor. For a full review of Introverted Mom click here!
The Girl with the Seven Names is a saddening, surprising, enlightening book about what it’s really like to grow up in North Korea. This is a great contemporary book pick that highlights current day issues.
I’ve read most of Malcolm Gladwell’s books with great interest. You may find yourself disagreeing with his conclusions at times, but Outliers, Blink, and his other books are fascinating and may startle you out of preconceptions about how success is achieved, how we make decisions, and more.
J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a modern day Cinderella story. This young man from a broken, addiction-ridden family succeeded in attending Harvard Law. Vance’s thought-provoking take on Appalachian America problems is balanced by his obvious love for his region and family. Quite a bit of language and domestic violence.
Educated is another memoir about a girl from a dysfunctional family who achieved academic success. Lots to discuss in this controversial memoir! Check out my full review here! Trigger warning: domestic violence.
A Man Called Ove is one of those books that sticks with you long after you’ve closed the cover. An isolated elderly man has just decided to commit suicide when his friendly neighbors move in and turn his life upside down. A little crass, some language, but still very worth reading.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is quickly becoming a modern day classic. This charming story pulls at your heart strings, and every book club will love the themes about books changing the course of peoples’ lives.
This lyrical bestseller by Delia Owens is such a beautifully written book I had to include it despite some reservations. Pros: gripping coming of age story about an isolated child in the swamps; beautiful language and tribute to the beauty of creation. Cons: unnecessary sensuality and sex scene, not integral to plot and easily skipped.
The Nightingale is a book that delves deep into the horror of life in occupied France during World War II. But it’s also a celebration of the strength and courage of the French women who helped win the war in diverse ways.
Trigger warning: lots of violence, rape, a little language.
One last WWII novel! All the Light We Cannot See is a fascinating story about two children, one French and one German, growing up in the years leading up to WWII. A clever juxtaposition of their points of view carries the story towards their inevitable meeting in occupied France.
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In this unexpected novel by a Spanish author, a typical young woman comes to an eccentric town that seems to exist outside of (or in spite of) the modern world. Lots to unpack in this book about distributism, classical education, the role of women and men, and more.
One day your teenager is going to ask the evolution question. “Was Darwin right and if so what does that mean for the Genesis creation account and our faith in a Creator?“
If Darwin was correct in his theory that all life on earth can be explained by natural selection and evolution, how can the Genesis account be correct? Once they begin questioning the veracity of the Bible and God’s role as Creator, a teen’s faith can quickly crumble.
But does it have to be a Faith versus Science dichotomy?
There are 3 major lines of thought on the origins of life.
1. Darwin’s Evolutionary Theory is the most accepted in scientific textbooks. It assumes no Creator.
2. “Young Earth Creationism” is a primarily Protestant theory of the origin of life; it assumes the Genesis creation account is true on a mostly literal basis and posits a very young earth to fit with the account.
3. The third theory of the origins of life is Intelligent Design theory, which has been promoted by a minority of scientists ever since Darwin published the “Origin of Species” in 1859. Intelligent Design Theory accepts many of Darwin’s discoveries and theories, but still claims the need for a Creative Force: the Intelligent Designer.
My approach to the Evolution Question as a teen was to tackle it head on by reading everything I could find on the topic! I read a variety of books pro-Darwin, anti-Darwin, pro-Young Earth, anti-Young Earth, and pro-Intelligent Design. The key point to remember is that these are all scientific theories, which means none of them are proven. Whatever your opinion on the question of life origins and evolution, it’s worth looking at all the theories.
Though I include books that explain each theory, there is a predominance of pro-Intelligent Design books on this list since I personally find that synthesis of faith and science most convincing.
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Pro Darwinian Evolution
Why read The Origin of Species? To get a fair idea of what Darwin actually claimed and what his evidence was.
Official Catholic Teaching
Humani Generis is Pope Pius XII’s teaching on the question of Evolution. He makes several important distinctions about what the Catholic Faith requires us to believe as regards the origins of human life. Key points include: that Catholics must believe the soul to be immediately created by God and that there is room for discussion about the creation of the human body. But Pius XII firmly states that Catholics must reject polygenism.
Pro Intelligent Design
Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box is one of the simplest and most elegant challenges to Darwinian Evolution I have read. He draws on emerging research in Biochemistry to show the fulfillment of some of Darwin’s own reservations about his evolutionary theory. After explaining the irreducible complexity of the cell, Behe argues for the existence of a Designer.
Pro Intelligent Design
Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell is an in-depth look at the sheer information contained in each DNA molecules, and what that means in terms of evolution and life origins. This book specifically focuses on the first origins of life.
Pro Intelligent Design
Darwin’s Doubt is a continuation of Meyer’s Signature in the Cell. Broader in its scope than the previous volume, Darwin’s Doubt looks at the Cambrian explosion, Darwin’s reservations about his own theory, and how most evolutionary theories presuppose an existence source of complex information.
Pro Intelligent Design
The latest in the Intelligent Design/Darwinism debate, Debating Darwin’s Doubt, is Stephen Meyer and other Intelligent Design scientists’ response to some of the criticism he received for Darwin’s Doubt.
Pro Intelligent Design
For the philosophically minded, From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again is a convincing argument for Intelligent Design based on final causality and formal causality. Gilson’s teleological argument is pure philosophy: no appeals to religious authority or revelation.
Synthesis of Catholic Teaching
Polish priest Michael Chaberek’s recent book is a well-done synthesis of 2000 years of Catholic teaching on Creation and the various Catholic commentaries on evolutionary t heory in the last 200 years. Chaberek is notable for his honesty in explaining that though he is a proponent of Intelligent Design, there is nothing inherently contrary to Catholic belief in the concept of macro-evolution.
Pro Young Earth Creationism
In Six Days is a synthesis of many pro-Creationism scientists reasons for their beliefs. Geologists, paleontologists, and more explain their reasons for believing in a younger earth.
Pro Darwnian Evolution
The Structure of Evolutionary Theory by Stephen Jay Gould is one of the more convincing modernized Darwinian theories that attempts to “fix” some of the more glaring errors in Darwin’s original work while keeping the key tenets of Macro-evolution. His theory of punctuated equilibrium is fascinating. He posits long periods of stability punctuated by sudden bursts of evolutionary change. Why these sudden bursts of change?
Pro Intelligent Design
The Privileged Planet is a fascinating look at the uniqueness of planet earth. This book offers a physics and cosmology based challenge to the notion that our place in the universe is random.
Looking for more great lists for Catholic teens? Check out some of my other book lists!
Looking for a way to delve deeper into the Bible? Stacy Mitch’s Courageous Women is a wonderful Bible study for personal or group use. While focusing on the great women in the Bible, the author does not miss the greater vision of Salvation History. Courageous Women is an insightful exposition both of Biblical Heroines and the golden thread of God’s plan to bring salvation to mankind through the chosen people.
Perfect for Individual or Group Bible Study
Doing this on your own? If you’re a busy mom with only a few minutes a day for a Bible Study, this book will be a great fit! Each chapter is divided up into short sections so you can read a relevant Bible passage, commentary, and discussion questions in those few brief minutes you have for spiritual reading.
Have a Church group or book club that wants to do a Bible study? Do a chapter a meeting and enjoy the ease of having discussion questions prepared for you. There’s even a handy “leader guide” in the back of the book with suggestions for discussing each question.
For Adults or Guided Older Teens
Courageous Women is clearly intended for adult readers, though I think mature older teen girls could also enjoy this study. Parental caution advised with younger/innocent teens due to open discussion of some of the more scandalous events of the Old Testament, such as what “uncovering nakedness” means, prostitution, incest, sodomy, etc. Nothing graphic.
As you read Courageous Women, you’ll be sure to find a Biblical heroine you identify with. Whether it’s Sarah, Mary, or a more unusual woman like Bathsheeba or Leah, you’ll find a woman with whom you can relate. Although these women lived many centuries ago, Stacy Mitch shows her readers that they were women like us with many of the same struggles, conflicting loyalties, temptations, and triumphs.
Would you become a Christian if it meant certain persecution?
The Sword and Serpent Trilogy is an exciting series which weaves together legends of many early Christian saints and martyrs into a fascinating narrative. Dr. Taylor Marshall, a Catholic Theologian and Philosopher, draws on what we know of the lives of iconic saints such as St. George, St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Nicholas, and St. Christopher. Get to know these fourth century saints in a personal and inspiring way through these notable new novels.
“Saints aren’t born. They are forged.”
In his creative retellings, Dr. Marshall seeks to convey the humanity of great saints to the reader. By showing the journey of growth and conversion which saints like St. George and St. Christopher might have taken, Dr. Marshall makes these saints accessible and relatable to readers in a new way.
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In the first book, Sword and Serpent, Jurian (St. George) loses his home and family because of Christian persecution. Jurian’s coming of age and maturity parallels his journey in faith as he moves past anger and revenge to follow God’s gentle guidance. Along the way Jurian encounters and is helped by courageous saints like St. Nicholas, St. Blaise, and St. Christopher. The dragon Jurian meets is not quite quite the dragon you might be expecting. And he slays the dragon, but not by himself.
In the second book, The Tenth Region of the Night, female saints get more page space. St. Catherine of Alexandria, Aikaterina, jumps off the page with her prodigious intellect and insatiable thirst for truth which leads her to the One Truth eventually. Intermingled with Aikaterina’s story, Jurian’s journey continues as he works to free St. Christopher from his persecutors.
In the third book, Storm of Fire and Blood, Jurian travels into exile in the wilds of Britain, bearing the sword Excalibur back to its homeland. Meanwhile, Aikaterina rules Alexandria for her ailing father and debates with Emperors. All the Christians prepare themselves for the coming storm of Diocletian persecution.
Some Fine Storytelling
Quite independent of the religious merit, the Sword and Serpent trilogy is worth reading as a well-crafted story. The attention to historical detail is meticulous. The balance of humanizing the saints without diminishing their holiness is superbly executed. There’s a fascinating subplot about the sword Excalibur and Arthurian legends. There’s another intriguing storyline about the influence early Christian saints may have had on a young Constantine. A bit of myth, a bit of legend, a bit of historical fact combine to make a captivating and inspiring series.
Wisdom from the Past
The Sword and Serpent books superbly portray the first centuries of the Church when to be Christian was to accept persecution and eventual martyrdom. The courage and faith of these early saints during the Diocletian persecution offers an inspiration and a challenge to us all. In our post-Christian world, our children need books like these to remind them of where we came from and what heroic virtue we as Christians are capable of achieving.
Enjoyable For Teens and Adults
The Sword and Serpent series is completely clean and appropriate for teens. There is no foul language. Alcohol use is somewhat frequent, in keeping with the historical time period when beer or watered wine was commonly drank by all people with meals. No glorification of drunkenness though.
Given the backdrop of Christian persecution in the fourth century, there is some level of moderate violence. For example, some Christians are burned to death; others are fed to wild beasts. However, there are no gratuitously graphic descriptions of these acts of violence.
I wholeheartedly recommend this fine series for all teenagers and also for adults! The Sword and Serpent series is a perfect impetus to renew our sense of faith and hope and rediscover the power of the Gospel message.
Looking for more great books for Catholic teens? Check out my book lists!
I’m always inspired by conversion stories. The thirst for truth, the sacrifices, the joy of Catholic converts, is so heartening to experience vicariously through these first-person accounts of modern day converts like Jennifer Fulwiler, Edith Stein, Peter Kreeft, Abby Johnson and more.
In the days of the early, persecuted Church, the occasional brave Christian would write an apologia: an explanation and defense of his Christian beliefs. Even in later years, this tradition continued, as in John Henry Newmans Apologia Pro Vita Sua .The apologia tradition has been revived in recent years. Since Catholicism is such a maligned religion, high-profile converts are once again called to make a defense of their beliefs. Enjoy each modern day apologia on this list, and be uplifted and confirmed in your Catholic faith.
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Of all the conversion stories I’ve read, one of the most moving is Jennifer Fulwiler’s Something Other Than God. A passionately rational atheist, Jennifer is cruising through a Hollywood-perfect life complete with wealth, friends, and a handsome husband. But she keeps wondering, “Why does anything matter?” This book is funny and insightful and rationally argued all at once.
Scott and Kimberly Hahn’s story of conversion starts in a Presbyterian Seminary and ends in Rome Sweet Home. The Hahn’s journey is convicting in its Theological integrity, yet maintains an easy-to-follow conversational style throughout.
Yes, Left to Tell isn’t strictly a conversion story in the sense that Immaculee was raised Catholic. But, when she was confronted with the Rwandan genocide, her faith is tested by fire. This is her story of choosing to embrace her Catholic faith, forgiveness, and love as she experienced intense persecution.
Not God’s Type is English professor and fencer Holly Ordway’s journey from Atheism to Catholicism. I loved that Ordway’s lifetime of exposure to great literature plays a roll in her conversion. Also, you learn quite a bit about fencing.
When pressed, I usually admit Chesterton is my favorite author. Orthodoxy is his exuberant, joyous reflections on some of the formative ideas that led him to Catholicism. His wit and wisdom never disappoint.
Edith Stein is the dramatic story of the talented German philosopher who became a Catholic, a Carmelite Nun, and eventually died in Auschwitz.
For more Jewish conversion stories, check out Honey from the Rock. Here are the moving stories of 16 Jews who found the fulfillment of their faith in Catholicism.
Surprised By Truth, Surprised by Truth 2, and Surprised by Truth 3 are a trilogy of thoughtful essays from a variety of (mostly) Protestant converts explaining their journey to Catholicism. Inspiring and give you a great basis in Apologetics. These books were a great source of faith growth for me as a teenager.
Chosen is a chunky book, containing 23 conversion stories. There’s a pleasing diversity in this collection, which features Wiccans, atheists, agnostics, and Protestant converts.
Some times it seems like life issues like abortion, contraception, and sterilization drive people away from Catholicism. This refreshing collection of 10 conversion stories features the opposite: how the Catholic Church’s strong teachings on the sanctity of life led to conversions.
This collection focuses on atheists ( and agnostics) who found their way to Catholicism. Includes Joseph Pearce’s conversion.
Joseph Fadelle knew full well that to become a Christian in his country was to face death. This is a dramatic story of a young Islamic man’s determination to find truth and the true faith no matter what the cost.
Derya Little’s journey from Islam to Protestantism to Catholicism is unlikely, to say the least! _ offers a fascinating story of God changing a young woman’s heart.
Abby Johnson’s conversion to Catholicism came right after her conversion to the pro-life cause, described in Unplanned. Both of Abby’s conversion were partially precipitated by her exposure to the faithful Catholics of 40 Days for Life. A very readable and fast-paced book.
Faith and Reason is a collection of 10 philosophers’ conversion stories. Each philosopher shares his or her meticulously considered reasons for choosing Catholicism. The theme in these essays is that wisdom and reason can lead people to God. Includes Peter Kreeft’s conversion story.
For more inspiring books for Catholic adults, check out my other lists!
70 year old Alan Bradley’s debut mystery novel quickly became an international bestseller- and with reason. In The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Flavia de Luce brings something completely fresh and new to the mystery scene. Amateur chemist Flavia is all of 11 years old, but when a stranger gets murdered in her family’s garden, she is instantly determined to solve the murder. Precocious and cynical and lovable, Flavia is a one-of-a-kind sleuth in these charming, well-plotted mysteries.
In the Great Tradition of Golden Age Mysteries
Author Bradley seems to have intentionally created a Golden Age of Mystery atmosphere in these novels. Like most Golden Age detective fiction, these books are set in English country houses and cozy villages. Each book opens with Flavia becoming involved in a murder investigation. The clues are provided for the reader so there’s actually hope of figuring out whodunit. The theme is always about bringing justice and restoring order to the house and village.
With an 11 year old protagonist, this series easily avoids many of the common racy relationship scenes common in mystery novels. There are a few plot points here and there involving adultery or promiscuity, but no explicit details. Since they’re so clean, this series is actually appropriate for teens too.
A Troubled Family
The sad part of these books is Flavia’s troubled family life. Her mother was absent, then dead. Her father is depressed and disinterested. Her sisters are frequently quite cruel. Flavia’s cynical nature is better understood after she explains how her sisters play cruel pranks such as leaving her tied up and locked in a dark cellar. Paradoxically, these same sisters do show loyalty on occasion, even saving Flavia’s life in one novel. The evolving relationship between the sisters is one of the threads that connects the books together and a reason to read them in order.
Given her troubled family situation, it’s no surprise that Flavia is no angel. She frequently lies, manipulates, and prevaricates. She disobeys adults habitually, breaks rules, plays malicious pranks and generally tries to get attention. She’s somewhat disturbingly obsessed with poisons. But despite all this, it’s easy to see this brilliant, lost adolescent’s potential, and you quickly begin rooting for her- not only to solve the mystery but to grow as a person.
A Mystery Series for Teens and Adults to Enjoy
Fans of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Sherlock Holmes will really enjoy these clever mysteries which reach back to the Golden Age for inspiration. Given Flavia’s troubled, precocious personality and the violent murders, I wouldn’t recommend them for younger teens. The books are intended for adults, but I think older teens would also enjoy them. Enjoy a little escape time as you peruse The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.
Looking for a daily Lenten Meditation? A way to grow closer to Mary and Jesus this Lent? Check out Lenten Journey with Mother Mary by Fr. Edward Looney, a brand new book from Sophia Institute Press. Whether you’re new to Marian devotion or already pray the rosary every day, this book will help enrich your relationship with Mary and Jesus.
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A Meditation a Day
Lenten Journey with Mother Mary has a meditation for every single day of Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday! As an additional bonus, Fr. Looney continues the devotions through the Easter Octave to Divine Mercy Sunday! Each day’s devotion begins on a very personal note with a direct quote from Our Lady, such as: “Let nothing else worry you, disturb you.” These quotes are drawn from a variety of approved Marian apparitions and set the theme for the day. The devotion then continues with a 2-3 page meditation, a sentence-long prayer, and a suggestion for a Lenten action.
Theme of the Week
Each week has a broad theme under which the individual days fall. Themes include intentional prayer, praying for others, healing, and examination of conscience. I particularly enjoyed the meditations during the Easter Octave, which focus on faith and trust in Divine Providence.
A Lenten Journey
The title about journeying is very appropriate for this book, which certainly leads you on a journey to deepen your relationship with Mary. By increasing your Marian knowledge and deepening your prayer life, this book leads you closer to Jesus through Mary. The heart-warming takeaway message in this Lenten devotional is: Mary prays for you. Mary loves you.
Dear Mr. Knightley is certainly not a classic, but at the same time it isn’t simply fluff literature. The majority of the book is a series of letters written by Samantha Moore, journalism grad student, to the mysterious benefactor who is paying for her education. The multitude of references to Jane Austen books, the Bronte sisters, Dickens, Alexandre Dumas, Daddy Long Legs, and other classics are enjoyable for book lovers. But this is certainly not a period-era book; in fact, there is quite an intentional dichotomy between the civilized classical world Samantha, commonly known as Sam, wishes she belonged to and the raw, rough life she has actually lived.
Sam has unquestionably had a tough life.
Her earliest memories are of abuse from her parents. In and out of the foster-care system for years, never connecting with a foster family, she ends up on the streets at the age of 15. After months on the street, she ends up in a Christian group home, where she finds a precarious sense of safety. Yet after years of danger and tumult, she finds herself unable to connect with those around her, instead
The question becomes, how can Sam heal from her traumatic life?
There are two answers offered in the novel: first, that Sam needs to “find herself,” and second, that she needs to learn to trust God. I was pleasantly surprised by the second theme, which is subtle and not fully developed, but undeniably present.
With the first theme about healing by “finding yourself,” I was concerned initially about Gnostic influences, but ended up deciding that the author’s intent was simply to show that Samantha needed to stop hiding behind her impersonations of literary characters. Samantha had perfected the art of copying the speech and mannerisms of whichever character she thinks appropriate for the situation: an amicable Jane Bennet, a ruthless Edmond Dante, a spirited Lizzie Bennet. Of course, this is a dangerous habit since it distances others and keeps them from meeting Sam herself. Sam learns that in order to make real friends, she has to let go of pretending to be her literary companions. The theme here is about stopping hiding your past, personality, or vulnerability, but rather embracing the unique experiences that molded you.
The second theme about healing as learning to trust in God is not as fully drawn out, but the Christian influences in Sam’s life are undeniable. Most of the people who help her are Christians: the priest at the group home, the professor and his wife who “adopt” her, the mysterious benefactor. Sam notices these people have a peace and certainty that she admits to wanting for herself. She finds when she chooses forgiveness, she finds peace and joy. There is no radical conversion in Dear Mr. Knightley, but the reader can certainly assume that with the continued influence of her good friends, Sam eventually will find her way home to Christ.
Who would enjoy Dear Mr. Knightley?
Refreshingly clean, this book is perfect for older teens and adults. I would not recommend it for younger teens due to some descriptions of domestic abuse and a plot line about Sam’s first boyfriend, Josh, pressuring her to “sleep over” with him. Although Sam refuses and eventually breaks up with him over his unfaithfulness, her reasons for refusing are rather nebulous. The teenage reader would already need to be able to make the correct moral judgments about the situation since Sam does not have the benefit of a strong moral compass.
This book is perfect for a light, quick read on vacation, when the kids are falling asleep, or at the end of a long day. The literary allusions are delightful, the romance between Sam and Alex is sweet, and there are some worthwhile themes about friendship, trust, and healing.
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The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is a truly compelling historical fiction novel: inspiring, humbling, thought-provoking, and devastating in turn. The story follows two French sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, from the time the first rumbles of World War II begin to affect France to immediately after the end of the war. By focusing on these two sisters’ very different but equally difficult paths through the war, The Nightingale succeeds in powerfully conveying the reality of the horror, the magnitude of the losses, the utter wrecking of lives in World War II. This book does not spare the reader from the awful depths that man can sink to. Yet the depravities man conducts are but a foil to the heights of heroism to which everyday people can rise. The Nightingale offers inspiration and hope with its themes about unbreakable love, heroic sacrifice, and the miracle of children.
The Nightingale is an affirmation of the power of all the forms of love to survive and thrive in the worst conditions imaginable.
The bonds of friendship are a potent force. In her small French hometown, Vianne and her best friend Rachel encourage and help one another to keep supporting their families, whether that is with words or by sharing the last morsels of food. When Jewish Rachel is taken away to a concentration camp, Vianne risks her own life to save Rachel’s son.
The love between sisters also survives the horror of war. Vianne and Isabelle had a tumultuous relationship growing up, but during the war each strives to protect the other as best they can. Vianne attacks a German soldier to save Isabelle. Isabelle distances herself from her sister’s family to protect them from the repercussions of her underground work. At the end of the war, Vianne searches tirelessly for her lost sister and brings her home.
The Nightingale depicts the love between parents and children as particularly beautiful and powerful. Vianne and Isabelle’s father Julien eventually gives his life to save Isabelle’s. Vianne repeatedly reflects that the only reason she continues struggling to survive is out of love for her children. Vianne’s husband Antoine writes to her from POW camp that she must remain strong for their children.
Love between man and woman also gets its due, mostly through Vianne’s clinging to Antoine’s memory through the years of war, and determination to rebuild their relationship afterwards. Isabelle’s relationship with Gaetan also illustrates the power of love to endure torture, sickness, and imprisonment.
The Nightingale is a paean to sacrifice, a tribute to the countless simple folk who made unimaginable sacrifices to help save lives during World War II.
At first, parents sacrifice for their children, townsfolk for their neighbors. But soon, the war make each person question what they truly believe about the sanctity of human life and how much they will risk to preserve it. First, Vianne saves and hides her Jewish friend’s son Ariel. Later, she helps save the lives of 18 other Jewish children, hiding them in an orphanage and forging identity papers for them. Her actions are all a heroic sacrifice, since they seriously endanger her life and her children’s lives. When asked how she could risk so much, Vianne tellingly says she does it for her daughter Sophie: what would she be teaching her daughter if she did not help save lives?
Her sister takes an even more risky path to help save lives. Isabelle envisions a way to help the English and American airmen escape from occupied France into neutral Spain. Although she realizes that she will almost certainly be captured eventually, tortured, and killed, she begins the “Nightingale Route.” She leads over 27 groups of airmen across the Pyrenees Mountains to safety before her capture.
One of the most beautiful sacrifices in the novel is after Isabelle is captured, when her father chooses to enter SS headquarters and confess to begin the ringleader of the “Nightingale Route” so that her life will be spared.
The Nightingale offers a strongly pro-life message about the blessing of children.
Returned POW Antoine says it most plainly: “This child… is a miracle.” All the main characters believe and live this truth throughout the novel: children are a miracle. They are the reason to keep going during the darkest years of the war. They are the cause for hope in a shattered world at the end of the war. Their existence is the healing as rebuilding begins.
The Nightingale is surprisingly clean with few exceptions.
As with any novel that attempts to accurately capture the atmosphere of occupied France, The Nightingale has its share of brutal violence. Vianne sees pregnant women shot, and experiences beatings and rapes herself. Isabelle is tortured and endures concentration camp life. The focus is not on the violence, though, but on the will to endure and survive the sisters exhibit.
There is little to no language. The only instances are the rare curse in French or German.
As far as sexual content, there is only one rape scene described, and it is short and easily skimmed over by sensitive readers. There are references to a husband and wife making love, but no descriptions. The most problematic content from a Catholic perspective is that Isabelle and Gaetan do sleep together despite being unmarried. Again, there is nothing graphic described, but parents should be aware if considering letting their teens read this book. I personally think it is too intense for any but very mature older teens.
The Nightingale is a sobering yet gripping novel which I highly recommend for Catholic adults.
This book leaves you reeling, yet inspired. It’s an important book because World War II needs to be remembered. The unspeakable evils committed and the heroic virtue shown both need to be kept in memory. Laugh, cry, enjoy this fantastic novel.