“The Ark” and “Rowan Farm” Review

the ark by margot benary isbert cover

Charming Post-war historical fiction about German refugees

There are so many thought-provoking and well-written historical fiction stories about World War II. I even did a list of World War II Chapter Books for Catholic Kids last year to round up all my favorites in one place. But when I discovered The Ark and Rowan Farm recently, I knew I had missed out on an important perspective! I’d read so many books from Jewish, American, English, Polish, and other allied perspectives. But I had never heard about the aftermath of World War II for the German people: the average family who found themselves penniless and homeless in an impoverished and fractured country.

Margot Benary-Isbert is uniquely qualified to write about the German refugee plight. Born in Germany in 1889, she lived through World War II with difficulty due to her failure to cooperate with the Nazis. After the war, her home was given over to the Russians and she fled to western Germany where she spent many years sharing a small apartment with two other refugee families. She wrote The Ark and Rowan Farm to provide encouragement and hope to German youth. And she succeeded!

The Ark

In The Ark, we meet Margret Lechow, a teenage war refugee. With her mother and three surviving siblings, Margret struggles to survive and find a home. Like many German families, the Lechows lost their home, money, father, and one sibling in the war. But the Lechows are special because they still have hope and a will to survive and thrive. You’ll love the positive portrayal of the frail mother who holds the family together. And your heart will be warmed by the teenage kids who don’t hesitate to take on adult responsibilities to keep their family fed and sheltered.

The Ark is a story about how small kindnesses can change lives. Whether it’s the Lechows befriending an orphan boy, a cranky old lady finding it in herself to give a little, or a generous farmer taking a risk and offering a job to a stranger, lives change for the better.

Rowan Farm

A year after the events of The Ark, sixteen year old Margret and her family are reunited at Rowan Farm where they set up house in an old boxcar. The joys and pains of reunion with their war-damaged father are dealt with gently. Margret struggles to move past her memories of losing her twin brother, again handled with discretion, though it is clear her brother was shot in front of her.

Animal lovers will enjoy the fact that Margret finds healing through caring for litters of Great Dane puppies, rehabilitating a Shetland pony, and growing her flock of chicks and sheep. As a farmer, Margot Benary-Isbert obviously understood the magic of nature, animals, and growing things to heal trauma and restore meaning to lives.

There’s a wonderful subplot about a group of schoolchildren working to build a home for returned war veterans.

In this second book, there’s a small touch of romance in the background between sixteen-year-old Margret and her employer’s son, but absoutely no content at all.

Clean and Charming

The Ark and Rowan Farm are two of the most charming and well-written books I’ve read in a while. I enjoyed them thoroughly as an adult. But, the intended audience is teens, for which I found them quite appropriate. No language, great discretion about war violence, and no sexual content. I recommend both books for middle school and older to provide a humanizing perspective on typical German families in the post-war years.

Buy both books through my Amazon Affiliate links: The Ark and Rowan Farm

“Blessed Carlo Acutis” Review

book cover blessed carlo acutis

Blessed Carlo Acutis: The Amazing Discovery of a Teenager in Heaven

Last fall, my family “discovered” Blessed Carlo Acutis through a Holy Heroes Glory Story CD. We learned about this amazing youth who managed to accomplish so much in just fifteen short years of life. My kids were enthralled not only by how young he was but how recently he had lived and how similar his life was to theirs. He died only a few years before they were born! He wore jeans! He used a computer!

A Saint for 21st Century Kids

My kids aren’t the only ones who love Blessed Carlo and feel an instant connection to his story. This young man is inspiring kids around the world as his story spreads. Blessed Carlo Acutis: The Amazing Discovery of a Teenager in Heaven is a brand-new book by Sabrina Arena Ferrisi. Drawing on Church documents and interviews, especially personal interviews with Carlo’s mother, Ferrisi retells Carlo’s life story. Kids (and adults!) can learn about his Eucharistic devotion, charity work, favorite pets, love for computer programming and film making, and much more!

But Ferrisi also includes an explanation of the official path to a declaration of sainthood. Kids will learn about the 3 stages on the way and what is required at each stage. They’ll be even more amazed that Carlo was declared a Blessed less than 15 years after his death!

There’s also plenty of color photos of Carlo, his family, and more for kids who love visuals.

Who Will Enjoy This Book?

Target age: middle grades through high school. But younger kids will enjoy hearing parts of the book read aloud, especially if they’re already familiar with Blessed Carlo’s life from Glory Stories. I enjoyed this short book thoroughly as an adult. I was touched and inspired by Blessed Carlo’s love for both God and neighbor. This young Blessed’s life truly exemplifies the two great commandments!

You can order your copy of Blessed Carlo Acutis from publisher Holy Heroes. Enter the discount cod CARLO15 to get 15% off your purchase to celebrate this new relase!

No affiliate link here, just a really awesome saint and story I wanted to share!

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of “Blessed Carlo Acutis: The Amazing Discovery of a Teenager” in Heaven in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

For more of my favorite books for Catholic kids, check out My Book Lists!

Review of Fahrenheit 451

fahrenheit 451 cover

“It was a pleasure to burn.”

Fahrenheit 451

With a memorable first line, Ray Bradbury introduces his classic dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. In a world where books are forbidden and houses are fireproof, “firemen” prowl the streets and pump fire into any homes where books remain. But fireman Guy Montag finds an open book one day and sees the words “Once upon a time…” And his life begins to change.

Fahrenheit 451 is timely

For a book written three quarters of a century ago, Bradbury’s novel rings eerily true in our current day. Bradbury imagined a world where people were isolated by earbuds, entertainment devices, and a constant stream of entertainment. Looking at you 21st century teens- and adults!

Bradbury portrays a society which chose to abolish books because they made people uncomfortable. His imagined society began by censoring then turned to burning. Instead of books while rile people up, his world pushes pleasure and forgetfulness. These are the two remedies his world chose to the problem of pain and unhappiness.

Did it work? Not at all. In the opening pages fireman Guy Montag shows us a world where suicide is so common it’s become the norm. It’s socially acceptable for teens to drive at high speeds in an attempt to kill others or themselves. No one notices- or remembers- when their neighbor dies.

The Power of History and Education

Bradbury had a powerful message that his generation didn’t heed: whoever controls the education of the young and historical narrative controls the future. In the world of Fahrenheit 451 no one knows what is true or false because they have lost the ability to remember much of anything themselves and have no written records to help them. Guy Montag can’t even remember how he met his wife a decade ago. He is amazed when someone tells him that firemen haven’t always set fires but used to put them out.

But there’s hope. Guy’s life is changed when he meets two outliers. First, an old professor who has secreted away books both physically and in his memory. Then, a teenage girl who is awake to the beauty of nature and open to learning from the memories of her ancient uncle. Awakened himself, Guy can’t unsee the disorder of the world he lives in. He sets out to set a new kind of fire and wake up those around him.

A Warning and a Hope

Fahrenheit 451 is a warning. But it’s also a hopeful book. Guy finds other rebels and learns their plan to preserve the knowledge of the world in memory and oral recitation until people are ready to hear wisdom again. Like the monks in ancient times, Guy joins the ranks of the preservers of ancient wisdom.

Older Teens Should Read It

Because this book is thought-provoking and hopeful, it’s perfect for high schoolers. Any content? Well, it’s wonderfully clean from all sexual content. Bradbury says the romantic interest is “a man falling in love with books.” There’s a few instances of taking the Lord’s name in vain by characters in moments of crisis, though these could also be interpreted as genuine cries for help.

The most important thing for parents is to make sure their kids are mature enough for the stark despair of the early chapters where one suicide attempt is dwelt on in detail. There’s also some violence later including one man setting another on fire and watching him burn, described in some detail.

Despite these caveats, I think most older high schoolers will appreciate and take away a lot from this book! The symbolism is very rich and rewarding to track down. (Why the salamander? Why the snake? Why the hearth?)

But Also Adults

But if you’re an adult who hasn’t read it yet, Fahrenheit 451 is worth the time even for busy moms! It’s short: less than 200 pages. It’s fast-paced. And it’ll make you think! My moms book club really enjoyed our discussion on this.

You can buy a copy through my affiliate link: Fahrenheit 451

To find more books your high schoolers may enjoy, check out my book lists, especially Good Books for Catholic High Schoolers Part 1 (Age 14 and up) and Good Books for Catholic High Schoolers Part 2 (Age 16 and up).

BritNotes on Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie

She’s brilliant, she’s insightful, she’s tricky. Agatha Christie is truly the Queen of Mystery.

Agatha Christie wrote over 80 mysteries and detective stories during her long and productive writing career. You can find a full list of her books in order of publication here if you’re curious about the scope of her work. I adore mysteries in general and Agatha Christie mysteries in particular, so over the years I’ve tried to read as much of her body of work as possible.

Why murder mysteries, you may ask?

What good can reading murder mysteries bring to our soul? Well, when we’re talking about detective stories from the Golden Age, we’re actually reading books written as a powerful response to and spiritual antidote for the post-World War era.

In a true Golden Age mystery, you have an environment such as a home or village that is shaken to the core by disorder: a murder. The mystery story is a quest for justice, an unravelling and labeling of the unimportant and important, a journey of restoration. Thus in the end a right order is restored to the environment and family: a mini-triumph of truth over evil and chaos. You can see how this formula appealed to a post-World War readership. And personally I still feel this quest for justice and order appeals to me deeply.

That’s why I advocate reading a good mystery- if you’re the right age and maturity.

For a really good discussion of why Golden Age mysteries are worth reading, listen to The Importance of Detective Fiction from The Literary Life Podcast.

Are all Agatha Christie mysteries equally well crafted?

No. She grew as a writer, and certainly some of her mysteries have much more depth than others.

Are all Agatha Christie mysteries clean?

Well, you’ll never find graphic bedroom scenes. But the careful parent will want to be forewarned that plenty of these mysteries involve plot elements of casual affairs, out of wedlock pregnancies, and adultery. Sometimes, you’ll also find disturbing motivations, twisted narrators, and questionable ethics.

So let’s take a look at some individual Agatha Christie books and what you want to know about as a parent. Note that I will be adding to this list frequently as time allows and I get through my Christie notes.

IMPORTANT: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!

The Body in the Library

When Miss Marple’s friends the Bantrys find a young woman’s body in their library, she knows she must help clear her friends’ names. This unlikely spinster sleuth draws on her extensive knowledge of human nature to solve crimes.

Parents will want to know: fairly clean. A film producer is implied to be carrying on an affair and living with a girl, but then it turns out they are married after all. It is hinted that various men, some married, may have been romantically involved with the victim.

Affiliate link: The Body in the Library

Cards on the Table

Cards on the Table is actually best enjoyed by Agatha Christie connoiseurs who have already read tons of her mysteries. You can tell she had fun with this sleugh reunion premise. Beloved Christie characters Hercules Poirot, Superintendent Battle, Colonel Race, and Mrs. Oliver are all invited to an ill-fated dinner party where they are confronted with four sucessful murderers who were never convicted. Then the host is killed. Which guest is the killer?

Parents will want to know: this is a clean mystery with a focus on the pscyhology of crime.

Affiliate link: Cards on the Table


The Clocks

A secretary is summoned to a blind woman’s house to take dictation and finds a dead man. Who is he? And how did he get there? Poirot consults on the case at the request of a young spy. Murder with a hint of espioage in this alibi-dependent mystery.

Parents will want to know: One character is revealed to be of illegitimate parentage. Another mentions her husband was unfaithful and got another woman pregnant.

Amazon affiliate link: The Clocks

Crooked House

This is one of my favorite standalone Christie novels. A young man finds himself unwillingly investigating his fiancée’s grandfather’s murder. The whole family is suspect, but if you’re like me you’ll miss-guess the culprit. A masterpiece of distraction.

Parents want to know: disturbing solution to the mystery; a schoolgirl committed the murder. Situation is revealed and resolved when the girls’ aunt intentionally drives off a cliff killing both herself and the child. This is portrayed as more merciful than letting the child be accused of the murder.

Amazon affiliate link: Crooked House

Death on the Nile

This novel has jumped to very well-known due to the recent Kenneth Brannagh film. Death on the Nile is one of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mysteries. This eccentric Belgian detective solves crimes by focusing on the little details.

In Death on the Nile, Poirot goes on a cruise down the River Nile with a diverse assortment of shipmates, including a newly married heiress. When the heiress is murdered, it’s up to Poirot to unmask the killer.

What parents should know: This is a particularly disturbing crime in its motivations. The husband and his lover between them accomplished the wife’s murder. The husband had only married the heiress so that when he killed her he could inherit her money.

Although there is no explicit sexual content in the book, be aware that the new 2022 movie does include sexual content.

Amazon affiliate link: Death on the Nile


Dumb Witness

Did elderly Emily Arundell’s beloved dog really leave a ball on the stairs and nearly kill her? Only he can tell Poirot and he’s only barking. When she dies two weeks later, Poirot investigates a small pool of possible suspects: only 5 people had an opportunity to kill her. And was it even murder?

Parents will want to know: a clean and enjoyable Poirot mystery.

Affiliate link: Dumb Witness

Elephants Remember

Hercules Poirot takes on a cold case that might be a double murder, murder/suicide, or even a double suicide of a husband and wife.

Parents want to know: there’s a suggestion that the husband or wife or both might have been having adulterous affairs. This is a suggested in passing a few times but not dwelt on too much.

Amazon affiliate link: Elephants Remember

Endless Night

This is probably the most disturbing Christie I’ve ever read, so be warned. It’s also a brilliant example of the “Unreliable Narrator.” It’s told in the first person by a bereaved husband who turns out to be both insane and the killer.

Parents: be warned that this is a psychological journey through the mind of a murderer who killed his wife in order to marry her best friend, his mistress.

Amazon affiliate link: Endless Night

Five Little Pigs

The daughter of a woman who murdered her husband 16 years before asks Hercules Poirot to take a second look at her parents’ case. He can’t resist the challenge.

Parents will want to know: this murder revolves a scandalous situation in which a married artist brings his mistress/model to live in the same house with his wife. It’s stated the artist has had a series of adulterous affairs previously. Positive: it turns out that the artist planned to repent and return to his wife so the mistress actually killed him.

Affiliate link: Five little pigs

The Moving Finger

Miss Marple is called in to help the police solve a Poison Pen case in the sleepy town of Lymestock. When letters turn into murder who is on the right trail to the real serial killer?

Parents will want to know: the poison pen letters accuse recipients of sexual misconduct such as affairs, illegitimate children, adultery, etc. A young man mourns a beautiful woman lacks “sex appeal.”

Affiliate link: The Moving Finger

The Murder at the Vicarage

When a corpse is discovered in the study of the good-hearted local vicar, no one can seriously suspect him, can they? Miss Marple swoops in to help the police find the real culprit in her typical unexpectedly brilliant manner.

Parents will want to know: quite a bit of innuendo in this mystery. Lots of gossip about a suspected affair between an archaeologist and his secretary. Later, an affair between a married woman and an artist is uncovered and presented somewhat sympathetically. The only explicit detail is when the adulterous couple is surprised embracing by the vicar.

Affiliate link: The Murder at the Vicarage

A Murder is Announced

A dinner party invitation in a small English village announces a murder will occur that night. Intrigued, the guests come expecting a party game. Instead, they find themselves murder witnesses- and suspects. Fortunately Miss Marple, spinster-detective extraordinaire, is on hand to unravel the mystery.

Parents will want to know: that this is a fairly tame murder mystery involving two deaths, one by gunshot and one by strangling.

Amazon affiliate link: A Murder is Announced

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

In this early Hercules Poirot mystery, an unreliable narrator adds an extra twist to a cunningly devised plot. It is sometimes called Christie’s masterpiece. This is a great Agatha Christie intorudction for teens due to the lack of innuendo and adult situtations.

Parents will want to know: Poirot suggests suicide to the murderer to save his sister from public disgrace.

Buy it through my amazon affiliate link: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

In this iconic Agatha Christie mystery, Poirot and his sidekick Hastings investigate a family murder. With accusations being thrown around and everyone hiding part of the truth, how will the real murderer ever be discovered? Great twist in this classic.

Content: it is mentioned as part of an alibi that one suspect is having an adulterous affair.

Affiliate link: The Mysterious Affair at Styles

Peril at End House

Hercules Poirot meets a young girl who describes three recent brushes with death. Knowing her life is in danger, Poirot rushes against time to prevent a murder. Or so he thinks.

Parents will want to know: drug use plays a major role in this novel, but drugs are clearly a bad thing that lead to misery. Very subtle implications of casual affairs between unmarried people.

Amazon affiliate link: Peril at End House

A Pocketful of Rye

When a rich businessman is poisoned, no one in his unhappy family seems very upset. Miss Marple sifts through a cast of thoroughly unlikeable characters to find the killer.

Parents will want to know: the wife of the deceased was engaged in an adulterous affair, though this is a minor plot point with no details given.

Affiliate link: A Pocketful of Rye

Postern of Fate

One of the Tommy & Tuppence series. The “young adventurers” of The Secret Adversary return in their 70s for a slow-paced espionage meets mystery type story. Not Christie’s best work, this rambling mystery probably wouldn’t interest anyone except diehard Tommy & Tuppence fans.

Parents will want to know: no content.

Amazon affiliate link: Postern of Fate

The Secret Adversary

Here’s a fun and light espionage style mystery! Two young and penniless friends agree to form the Young Adventurers company and do anything to earn money. Quickly recruited by a mysterious employer, they find themselves deep in the world of spies. This one is not as well written as other Christies, but teens usually enjoy the touch of romance and young hero and heroine in this novel.

Parents want to know about: mild suspense and danger.

Amazon affiliate link: The Secret Adversary

Sparkling Cyanide

In Sparkling Cyanide, George Barton is on the hunt for his wife Rosemary’s murderer. He recreates the circle of guests and dinner she died at…. and then dies himself. It’s up to Colonel Race to figure out what really happened to Rosemary and George.

Parents will want to know: there are implied adulterous affairs between some of the party guests. A secretary secretly tries to ruin her employer’s marriage.

Amazon affiliate link: Sparkling Cyanide

They Do It With Mirrors

Miss Marple visits an old friend who runs a reform school for troubled youth and immediately feels a sense of foreboding. She isn’t surprised when three murders soon follow.

Parents will want to know: two young men pursue a young married woman and try to convince her to leave her husband. A young man kisses a married woman by force. An older woman shares her ex-husband left her for a notorious “dancer.”

Affiliate link: They Do It With Mirrors

For ideas of great books, check out My Book Lists!

GIVEAWAY and Review of “Champions of the Rosary”

Have you ever heard of the only approved American apparition of Our Lady?

I’d read about Fatima, Lourdes, Guadalupe with my kids. All the famous apparitions. But when it came to our own country, I knew just enough to know that there had been an American apparition in Wisconsin, but that was it. If your family is like mine, you’ll be as excited as we were to learn more about the apparitions and miracles right here in our own country! Let me tell you about Champions of the Rosary, a new historical fiction novel from author Laurie Schmitt.

champions of the rosary book cover

In 1859, Our Lady appeared to a young girl named Adele Brise in Wisconsin.

Our Lady asked Adele to pray and teach the children in rural Wisconsin their Catechism. A convent and Chapel were eventually built to fulfil the request of Our Lady of Good Help, as this apparition was dubbed. And did she ever help the people of Wisconsin! This book recounts the miracles that occurred at the apparition site in future years such as miraculous healings.

The most stunning miracle occurred during the terrible Peshtigo Fire of 1871. As thousands of acres around burned, then-Sister Adele led the local people in a rosary procession around the grounds of the convent. Miraculously, the convent acreage was completely spared: a verdant green island in the midst of hundreds of miles of devastation on all sides.

This is a beautiful story about a family struggling through tough times and turning to Our Lady for hope and healing.

It’s also an intense story since the backdrop is the Peshtigo Fire which ravaged the countryside (I recommend for ages 10 and up). Tweens and teens will be caught up in the drama of a natural disaster unfolding while also learning about this beautiful apparition with a message of hope for our country.

If you’re as excited to read this book as my family was, I have good news: I’m giving away FREE copies of Champions of the Rosary and Laurie Schmitt’s other historical fiction novel, Lepanto’s Lady!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Lepanto’s Lady is another great historical fiction novel with a Marian theme. In Lepanto’s Lady, watch the events of the momentous Battle of Lepanto unfold through the eyes of young Rosa. Learn about the origins of the October 8th feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

You can buy Champions of the Rosary through my amazon affiliate link: Champions of the Rosary

Our Lady of Good Help, Pray for Us! Our Lady of the Rosary, Pray for Us!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Champions of the Rosary” and “Lepanto’s Lady” from the St. Paul Center in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

National Novena to Our Lady of Good Help | The National ...
Image of Our Lady of Good Help- isn’t she beautiful?
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“Heaven’s Hunter” Review

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“Heaven’s Hunter”

Star Wars meets Catholic apologetics in Heaven’s Hunter. In this literary debut from Marie Keiser, a young man comes of age in a futuristic world where interplanetary travel is the norm. Born to wealth and privilege, Randall Yung walks away from it all to pursue justice with the interplanetary fleet hunting down the worst criminals of all: the Catholics.

Catholic Apologetics meets Interplanetary Travel

If you have a teen who likes sci fi and the Catholic faith, Heaven’s Hunter will be a hit. Starting from the perspective of an atheist, Marie Keiser leads her protagonist on a rambling interplanetary quest for truth. Randall Yung is a seeker: he desires deeper meaning in life. At first he thinks he’s found it by infiltrating and betraying underground Catholic communities. But the more time he spends with the Catholics, the less certain he becomes that they are a threat to humanity.

Teens will enjoy this twisty tale. Seeing the Catholic faith from the outsider perspective is a valuable tool. It helps us rediscover our own love and appreciation for just how radically, beautifully unique our faith is.

Another important take-away that this book will give teens is that often the most important apologetics is simply our good example. What impacts atheist Randall is the kindness and mercy he experiences from the people he is hunting a la St. Paul.

Content?

Nope! This is a squeaky clean novel from a Catholic author. There’s a touch of mild romance, very clean. No language. There’s a little violence, but nothing too graphic. One major character gives his life for another.

A Commendable First Novel

Overall, Heaven’s Hunter is a worthwhile novel for lovers of space fiction. Like many first novels, there were places where the pacing stumbled. I’d like to see more world-development and detail added if future books are written to make this a series. But as it is, it’s a quick and enjoyable read with great theme about loving your enemy, forgiveness, persecution, and being a witness.

You can buy Heaven’s Hunter through my Amazon affiliate link: Heaven’s Hunter.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Heaven’s Hunter” from the author in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Review of “Piranesi”

piranesi book cover

Piranesi

I’ve ragged on a few New York Times Bestseller’s recently, so I wanted to share one I did love. Piranesi is that rare contemporary book I can wholeheartedly recommend to all my friends with no reservations. It’s well-written, superbly plotted, and has just the right amount of nods to the classics without coming across as trying too hard. Probably I mostly like it because the author is clearly playing with a Magician’s Nephew theme and you all may have noticed that I’ve never outgrown my childhood love of Narnia.

For the Moms

To be clear, this book is for you, mom, not your kids. Well, if you have a high schooler they might like it too, but mostly I’m thinking of moms here. If you love fantasy, or mystery, or art, or fairy tales, or books about social issues, you’ll probably enjoy this book. That’s a pretty eclectic list, I know, but this is a book that keeps you guessing. It defies categorization. I was telling a friend, “It’s like a mystery… noooo, more of a suspense…. no, actually, more fantasy. You just have to read it.”

Piranesi plays with contrasts: ancient versus modern consciousness, freedom versus bondage, contemplation versus action. There’s a compelling sense of place. A touch of art history. It deals with important topics like misuse of power, but in the most powerful way: through the story. It’s that rare book with great depths to ponder, but you read it in 24 hours. Then, if you’re me, you re-read it.

I really don’t want to give away any spoilers, but here’s a few tips on how to read it. First, this book is all told in diary form by an unreliable narrator (echoes of Wilkie Collins). Second, it helps to have read The Magician’s Nephew recently. Third, enjoy the mystery of it and don’t get turned off by the intentional strangeness of the first few chapters!

You can buy Piranesi through my Amazon affiliate link: Piranesi

Or through my Bookshop page: Book Review Book

For more of my favorite books for adults, check out my section For Catholic Parents.

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Review of “Mr. Blue”

mr. blue book cover

Mr. Blue

Who is Mr. Blue? A modern day saint? A communist? A lunatic? A practical businessman encounters the charismatic Blue and is confounded. Fascinated and repulsed all at once, the businessman compiles a book of his own impressions, interviews with others who have known Blue, and letters.

So who is Mr. Blue? At times, an affluent gentleman who buys houses and fills them with decrepit servants. Other times, a young man with a brilliant smile, dressed in burlap sacks and living in a packing crate. A daredevil flying a kite on the precipice of a 30 story building. A philosopher. A film writer.

In each incarnation of Blue, you glimpse some of the fierce joy that makes him special.

Joy and Wonder

I love Mr. Blue for the same reason I love G. K. Chesterton’s fiction and Gerald Manley Hopkin’s poetry. These modern day mystics had a sacramental view of creation, a childlike sense of wonder, and find a passionate joy in the simple process of everyday life. Although in some ways a book about a very different type of wonder- for the ingenuity and life of a city versus the beauty of nature- Mr. Blue firmly falls into the category of books which reawaken our appreciation for seeing the true, good, and beautiful in our daily life. As a deeply Catholic book, Mr. Blue also reminds us about the wonders of Catholicism.

The Movie Script

The author Myles Connolly was actually a screenwriter for many years. Inside the story of Mr. Blue, Connolly tucks in the plot for a movie Blue wants to make. It’s a dystopian film, a singularly hopeless flight of fancy for such a enthusiastic and joyful character as Blue. A one world government has decimated and subjugated the population. Christianity has been intentionally extinguished. In the end, the last Christian on earth, a priest, manages to grow a few grains of wheat and offer one last Mass as a the world ends and Christ comes in glory.

Does the secret to Blue’s intentional joy lie in this rather dark imagining? Perhaps. Connolly paints Blue as a young man with a dark past, perhaps a man who once lived in the depths of depression or pessimism. But now, Blue intentionally eschews worldly values and lives for poverty and the simple joys of life.

Great for Teens and Adults

This is a book that teens tend to connect with. Blue’s passion and idealism inspires and engages teenagers. I recommend reading Mr. Blue in the high school years, perhaps as part of an American literature year. Adults also find Mr. Blue rather fascinating. Like the first person narrator, we pause and wonder at this St. Francis like modern city man with a heart for the poor and a passion for Christ.

You can buy this book through my amazon affiliate link: Mr. Blue

To see more of my favorite books for Catholic high schoolers and adults, check out my book lists, especially:

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Review of “Black Bottle Man”

A Deal with the Devil

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.

Cautions

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.

Conclusions

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!

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Black Bottle Man

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Black Bottle Man” in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

man sitting under a tree reading a book during night time

Printable Book List: 14-16 Year Old Catholic High Schoolers

Have a voracious reader in the high school years? Need a summer reading challenge for your 14-16 year old high schooler?

Challenge them with this FREE printable list! Lots of classic great books, some Catholic classics, and a few modern for fun titles! Over 85 titles on this printable book list for 14 year old and older teens. The list has checkboxes and space for date completed.

The books on this list will also be enjoyed by teens older than 16 and even adults!

Download this list for free!

The first page looks like this:

printable reading list 14-16 year olds

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