Summer reading by a body of water … it’s a dream I hold before me, and however unrealistic it may be in actuality, the mere idea of it makes me hoard titles and feel hopeful.
In the event that you find yourself seeking good Catholic fiction, here are titles that I’ve loved in recent months and that would be great companions wherever you find yourself this summer.
If You Love a Good Whodunit
The Sleeping Witness: A Father Gabriel Mystery
By Fiorella De Maria (Ignatius Press, 2017)
De Maria is an author I’ve been following for a few years, and I knew even before I read this novel that it would be well-written.
What I didn’t expect was the amount of smiling and laughing that would accompany my reading it.
This is a murder mystery that introduces us to the delightful and rather unfortunate Father Gabriel, who’s a monk with a bit of a “nose problem,” which is to say, he can’t help sticking his nose in things when he clearly shouldn’t.
We meet a number of very interesting characters, such as Inspector Applegate, who is just as grumpy and crusty as any police detective with an intrusive helper is likely to be. There’s also Dr. Paige, whose wife is found murdered (and who’s the prime suspect), and Abbot Ambrose, who is terrifying with a large dose of humor (humor for the reader, that is, not for Father Gabriel).
The case seems cut-and-dried: Marie Paige is found near death in the arms of Johannes Pederson, a foreign artist and war hero. It looks like a crime of passion, and even the note that Dr. Paige finds in his house points to an affair.
Set in post-World War II small-town England, there’s a bit of a history lesson that unfolds as you discover more about the characters and their pasts. It’s as delightful to read and imagine the scenery as it is to push your mind past the riddle De Maria keeps until the very end.
Teen Fiction That Works for Mom, Too
A Single Bead
By Stephanie Engleman (Pauline Books and Media, 2016)
This is billed as teen fiction, but I’d hand it to anyone to read. It is not only well-written: It tells a good story and taps into the heart of the reader, too.
The storyline explores death and prayer, but in a completely natural way. It also considers how adults don’t have it all together; how families, though imperfect, can pull together through hardship; and ways to pray as a natural part of life.
This book, while being unabashedly Catholic and Christian, is not unabashedly boring. It explores grief and depression and faces the burden of both. It’s also a perspective that feels very real: The teens in this book aren’t Goody Two-shoes who pray all day, and there’s even a scene where there’s a “speed Rosary” prayed. (That made me laugh.)
The characters have their flaws and foibles, just like real people. As someone who’s been hanging around teens for the last few years (though not living with them, tis true), it struck me as very spot-on.
Adventure Tales for the Whole Family
The Secret Truth
By Loretta Oakes (Golden Oakes Publishing, 2016)
After I picked this up, I realized it was the second in a series … but that didn’t stop me from reading it. In fact, finishing it made me think that I need to get the previous book.
Sam (short for Samantha) and Calvin have been subjected to summer school at their parish school — and we find out that this involves a secret passage in the church with time-traveling capabilities.
I’d call this advanced middle-grade reading or early-teen fiction (it sort of falls between what I’ve seen in both young-adult and middle-grade categories), but it’s an appropriate story for the whole family.
As Sam and Calvin search through the ages for a missing grandma and religious sister, they learn what Mass really means. They see the historical context for themselves and see the Bible in action.
It’s an enjoyable book to read, and the adventures are entertaining. I’ll be passing it along to my kids so they can enjoy it, too.
If You Like Shorter-Form Writing
The Wife of Pilate and Other Stories
By Gertrud Von Le Fort (Ignatius Press, 2015)
This is a collection of three novellas appearing for the first time in English. They’re written by an acclaimed German writer and are from collections of her later historical fiction.
Though I’m not usually a fan of historical fiction, I was swept away by all three of these novellas, which are completely independent of each other.
The first, The Wife of Pilate, posits the conversion of Pontius Pilate’s wife, Claudia, written from the viewpoint of her servant. It’s an examination of the slow process conversion so often is, with many layers and facets. We also get a glimpse of the early Church in practice.
Plus Ultra, the second in the collection, considers a young girl at court in 16th-century Europe. It’s told from the girl’s point of view, and unpacking the story happens slowly and with great finesse.
Finally, At the Gate of Heaven is set in the time of Galileo’s trial during the Roman Inquisition. Just when you think you see where it’s going and how it will end … there’s a twist.
These three stories form lessons in human nature, proving how much things stay the same. For me, they were an introduction to a writer I’d like to read more.
Sarah Reinhard is online as a Register blogger and at SnoringScholar.com.