"It is a truth universally acknowledged" . . . that Advent and the Christmas season constitute the perfect time to catch up on some great reads! While nonfiction may facilitate growth through added knowledge and understanding, fiction may also, through the lens of the imagination, provide a unique insight difficult to discern before. Whether you are seeking a gift for a loved one or want to take advantage of the time spent indoors during the winter, these five novels may suit your needs. May they bring joy and reflection during this special time of year.
1. Black as Night by Regina Doman
Black as Night is the second book in a delightful series (preceded by The Shadow of the Bear). Follow the girl with "skin as white as snow" this Christmas season as she faces both peril and promise.
When it comes to Catholic fiction, Doman's modern fairy tale retellings have always been at the top of my list. She deftly weaves the source material into a contemporary setting by likewise drawing profound spiritual elements into a creative and enthralling plotline. The reader is invested in her wonderful characters and what will become of them, leading to an emotional read. As a hopeless romantic, I loved the poignancy and beauty of these clean love stories. I also greatly appreciated finding "kindred spirits" in her characters, similar to when I read works by L.M. Montgomery or Jane Austen. As a counter-cultural Catholic woman in modern society, I have discovered that such a phenomenon is not always easy to find in novels of today. While I enjoyed all of Doman's books, Black as Night was my favorite. In addition to the deep reflections brought into the tale, some of the Catholic inclusions were also just plain "fun." After all, who can resist a retelling that turns the seven dwarves into seven lively, one-of-a-kind friars?!
Synopsis: During the summer in New York City, seven friars who work with the homeless stumble upon a runaway girl named Nora, while Bear Denniston searches for his missing girlfriend, Blanche, in a thrilling retelling of the classic "Snow White" story.
My second novel, The Rose and the Sword, includes Christmas as both a setting and source of reflection. While I Thirst is the first book in the series, Books 1 and 2 of The Veritas Chronicles have been read and enjoyed out of order. Spiritual warfare, in the context of fighting against unexpected evil in the real world, is a key theme. Many faithful young Catholics will be presented with trials in a secular society and, with the armor of Christ, will be better prepared to face them. This novel was also written with the hope of refuting anti-Catholic misconceptions, especially those concerning Mary and the saints. The heroism of becoming a “little flower,” purity, and a brief pro-life storyline are other themes. While the series is officially categorized as YA Fiction, it has been enjoyed by all ages, from 14 to 65+.
Vincent Frankini of Tumblar House and Off the Menu has praised The Rose and the Sword as "classic good versus evil," citing "a counter-cultural approach between the protagonist and the villain(s)." He also stated, "Marinello-Sweeney is one of my favorite writers of characters because she is not afraid to include colorful...idiosyncrasies that are the stuff of life." Reviewers have called The Veritas Chronicles "poetic," "literary," and "thought-provoking." More review excerpts are included on the author’s website. Signed copies are available through Tumblar House at no additional cost.
Synopsis: Can a rose survive in winter? Rebecca Veritas is a new college graduate, eager to pursue her dreams as a clinical psychologist. After receiving a full scholarship for an internship recommended by her old professor and friend Dr. Everson, she leaves the quiet suburban town of Cedar Heights for the big city of Los Angeles. As she adjusts to her new surroundings, beginning to work with her assigned mentor and a wide variety of clients with all the enthusiasm of a fresh intern, she finds solace in a mysterious antique bookstore. Yet, as her thoughts still linger on someone from her past, she is unaware that the present has the potential to haunt her the most. As time passes, a growing sense of unease quickly transitions into more disturbing events that make her question if all is as it seems. When circumstances take an eerie turn, Rebecca will find herself a player on a larger scale than she had ever anticipated, a scale that could cause one to pay the ultimate price.
In this riveting sequel to I Thirst (2013 YATR Literary Award for Best Prologue), the adventures of Rebecca Veritas, the young, introspective dreamer with an inclination toward random insanity, continue.
While this isn't a Catholic novel, it includes Catholic elements—from feisty nuns to saint shout-outs—that are respectfully and tastefully employed. The Enchanted Sonata is a beautiful, imaginative retelling that combines "The Nutcracker" and "The Pied Piper" stories in an unique and compelling way. Not only is it a wholesome read that is perfectly appropriate for a Catholic audience, but the Christmas setting would make it an even greater delight to read during this season.
Heather Dixon Wallwork has been one of my favorite authors ever since I read her novel Entwined, a stunning retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" that also includes a reference to daily Mass. I quickly fell in love with the perfect blend of personality and classicism inherent in Dixon's writing style. Her works are always filled with an enchanting storyline, spellbinding language, and rich and colorful characters that will remain in your heart. Humor is sprinkled throughout with hysterical scenes that will likewise stay with you. While the romance is lovely and, again, very "classic" in the quality of its presentation, I also appreciated the strong emphasis on the importance of family; the intricate dynamics thereof are developed in such an artful and moving way. In each novel, there was a certain depth and profound Truth to the all-encompassing theme that encircled all other sub-themes and dynamics.
Grab a mug of hot chocolate, and enjoy this novel by the fireside as Christmas tree lights glimmer in the background!
Synopsis: Clara Stahlbaum has her future perfectly planned: marry the handsome pianist, Johann Kahler (ah!), and settle down to a life full of music. But all that changes on Christmas Eve, when Clara receives a mysterious and magical nutcracker. Whisked away to his world—an enchanted empire of beautiful palaces, fickle fairies, enormous rats, and a prince—Clara must face a magician who uses music as spells...and the future she thought she wanted. The Enchanted Sonata, a retelling of "The Nutcracker Ballet" with a dash of "The Pied Piper," will captivate readers of all ages.
This one is especially for the boys—though it also thoroughly captured my attention! The journey of Timothy Clement is a powerful testimony to forgiveness and hope that invests the reader emotionally from the very first page. In a carefully-drawn spectrum reminiscent of Les Misérables, our modern-day Jean Valjean eventually passes down the Christ-like legacy of love after encountering a series of human "guardian angels," most notably Brother Jude. While initially feeling disdain for the religious, a friendship is eventually born that is both beautiful and real, portrayed masterfully in both dialogue and wordless moments. Throughout the novel, Baker also seamlessly weaves a profound thematic thread pertaining to St. Anthony of Padua, the Patron Saint of Lost Articles. It is well-developed and poetic, remaining one of my very favorite elements of the book. As Timothy's mother lays dying, she gives her son a St. Anthony necklace, telling him, "He helps find people who are lost." I found this to be a beautiful variation on finding "lost articles." The richness of the symbolism will strike a chord with readers as Timothy refuses to part with the necklace even when its full meaning is unknown, even in the most dismal of circumstances when he is "lost."
The novel also serves as a beautiful tribute to the use of the gifts that God has given us. Art is especially highlighted as a gift that may be used for both good and ill, to harm or to heal. In a day and age in which the mainstream celebrates misuse of art and other special gifts, Please Don't Remove MarGreat's Glasses! serves as a keen reminder that may stimulate dialogue long after the last page is read. If you are looking for a story of redemption this Christmas, check out MarGreat!
Synopsis: Please Don’t Remove MarGreat’s Glasses! is an inspirational tale of redemption for young adults which demonstrates the healing power of God’s immeasurable grace.
Timothy Clement was like every other high-privileged teenager. The only thing that mattered to him was parties, girls, money and his ride into Yale Law School. Life was good. After a night of drinking and gambling, Timothy found himself on the wrong side of an illegal gambling scheme which would change his life forever.
Losing his brother due to his own irresponsible behavior was the wake-up call he needed. After his brother’s death, Timothy’s family abandoned him. He found himself imprisoned, broke and alone. After several years in prison, Timothy was paroled back in to society. Trying to fit back in would prove to be his biggest challenge.
Just as he thought there was no hope of living a normal, productive life, a man named Jude took him in, gave him a place to sleep, and tried to teach him to put his faith in God. Timothy, being an atheist, would hear nothing of the sort. Can this God-fearing man show the atheist the road to eternal love and salvation?
Looking for a middle-grade novel for your child? Are you yourself young at heart? Seven Riddles to Nowhere may be considered a Catholic version of the highly-acclaimed novel The Westing Game with its own distinctive twists and turns. It is an engrossing and fun mystery novel filled with adventure and suspense. While I have never been to Chicago, I found myself captivated by the journey of Kam and his friends as they searched the churches in the area for clues. The cathedrals were described in such vivid detail that I almost felt as if I were there, and the Catholic nerd in me was thrilled at the symbolism and intricate images therein. It is no surprise that Cattapan is also a teacher, as this novel would serve as a fabulous educational tool for students at the middle or high school level taking English, religion, or local history courses. The author is a master at developing quirks and other distinctive attributes that allow you to get to know her characters deeply and feel as if they are real people—from Kam, a selective mute, to his best friend, Vin, whose other best friend is hand sanitizer, from Vin's sister, the excitable Analyn, who is always looking for the opportunity to eat, to *her* best friend, Nakia, the resident Catholic Nerd Expert. These unique characters gather together to solve a mystery that has the reader guessing alongside them.
While Seven Riddles to Nowhere is a lighthearted novel, its themes are far from shallow or trivial in scope and speak to the mission of young Catholics today. In fact, I could see it being read as a precursor to World Youth Day to get young people enthused about the event. It is both timeless and timely. If you're looking for an enjoyable book for your child (or yourself!) this Christmas that also provides good lessons to learn, Seven Riddles may be the answer you seek.
Would you like to see more? Tumblar House has a large selection of Catholic novels, intuitively sorted and categorized for easy browsing.